European researchers have reported the creation of an interface between mammalian neurons and silicon chips. The news is described as a crucial first step in the development of so-called ‘cyborgs’ that combine silicon circuits with living animals.
The ultimate applications of the technology are “potentially limitless”, according to researchers involved with the NACHIP project funded by the European Commission’s Future and Emerging Technologies initiative within the IST programme.
In the long term the interface could enable the creation of very sophisticated neural prostheses to combat neurological disorders, or allow the creation of organic computers that use living neurons as a CPU.
Such applications are potentially decades away, but in the much nearer term the new technology could enable very advanced and sophisticated drug screening systems for the pharmaceutical industry.
“Pharmaceutical companies could use the chip to test the effect of drugs on neurons and quickly discover promising avenues of research,” said Professor Stefano Vassanelli, a molecular biologist at the University of Padua in Italy, and one of the partners in the NACHIP project. NACHIP’s core achievement was to develop a working interface between the living tissue of individual neurons and the inorganic compounds of silicon chips.
“We had a lot of problems to overcome,” said Professor Vassanelli. “And we attacked the problems using two major strategies: through the semiconductor technology and the biology.”
It seems inevitable to me that we will become part machine, part genetically modified immortal organisms… if we survive long enough. For some reason the second photo gives me the creeps more than the first one.