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Scientists taught brain cells in a petri dish how to play Pong

Updated Oct 31st, 2022 10:35AM EDT
scientists examines unknown bacteria
Image: Rafe Swan / Getty Images

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A group of scientists out of Melbourne, Australia have proven that brain cells in a dish can learn how to play Pong. The experiment is one of the first times that cells like this have shown the ability to perform goal-oriented tasks. The scientists call the system “DishBrain,” and it’s made up of 800,000 human and mouse neurons grown in culture together.

They then mounted the neurons together on an array of microelectrodes so they could read all the activity happening within the brain cells in the dish as they stimulated them with electrical signals. The scientists took the brain cells in a dish and placed them into a virtual version of the old-school game Pong.

In the recreation, the brain cells in a dish acted as the paddle for the game, while a simulated ball had to be caught and knocked back before it could pass by. The test is an interesting one and one that we’ve seen scientists working to teach brain cells how to complete for a while now. Previously, some even managed to teach cells how to play Pong faster than A.I. could, which was impressive, to say the least.

An older video from scientists who created a similar experiment and taught brain cells to play Pong.

This new research, though, is more focused on the exhibition of sentience seen in brain cells in a dish. By allowing the cells to control the paddle and return the ball via sensing, new possibilities for discovery are being opened. And those possibilities could end up having some very far-reaching consequences for the world of medicine.

The researchers published a paper on the research in the journal Neuron this month. The experiment may sound a little off-the-wall, but this is exactly what scientists have been working towards for years. Just recently, we saw scientists combining human brain cells with a living rat’s brain to unlock new potential. With further experiments involving brain cells in a dish, we could learn even more, too.

Looking for more science news? Scientists recently treated terminal cancer using a modified herpes virus. Plus, a professor rediscovered a “miracle plant” previously believed to have been extinct for over 2,000 years. Also, left-handed people are more likely to be mentally ill.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.