Researchers Receive Funding to Grow Neural Networks in Petri Dishes

September 25, 2018 - 3 minutes read

To find inspiration for innovation, sometimes, you have to look elsewhere than hardware and software. Many of the best advancements in technology have come from examining the natural processes we find in animals and the environment around us.

Petri dish cultures are known to use the path of least resistance to create a connected network to share nutrients, communication, and warnings about danger. A group of interdisciplinary researchers and developers from San Francisco to New York recently received a grant of $500,000 from the National Science Foundation to create a computer in this organic environment.

Cultivating Disruption Organically

The team plans to program the computer, at some point, to calculate complex mathematical tasks. The end result will be a giant petri dish of neural networks. It’s not so farfetched to think that biological entities could be powering our computers and running machine learning developers‘ code in the future.

The group of scientists hasn’t released much information about the project; they’ve said they’ll use living cells to develop a neural network, but we don’t know what kind of cells they’ll be using and testing. They’ve also told reporters that they plan to use optogenetics, which is the biological method of using light to control where cells grow, to teach the cells how to read handwritten digits.

The team hopes the project will improve the scientific community’s understanding of communication in both organic brains and computers. This amount of information is just vague enough to pique further intrigue without revealing any sensitive or specific information.

Big Implications

If this project goes well, the technology could change computer science and computer engineering. Smart products could theoretically grow from seeds or bacteria.

Yevgeny Berdichevsky teaches bioengineering at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, and he’s one of the researchers on the grant-winning team. He says, “We hope that neuron scientists will be able to use this technology as a testbed for studying the human brain.”

Indeed, the conclusions from this project will not only affect computer fields, but it’ll change how we perceive, study, and manipulate bacteria and our brains. Would you buy an organic computer? Do you think a biological computer could beat the speed of today’s processors? Let us know in the comments!

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