Ah, science and medicine, you never fail to freak us out. Recent weeks have seen us inching closer to flawless bionic body parts and replicating organs– with the latest being the brain itself. Thanks to researchers in Austria who specialise in stem cell manipulation, it is now possible to create humunculi… I mean tiny human brains. Literally ‘pea brains’ at 4mm wide, and more correctly referred to as ‘cerebral organoids’.
Much to our dismay, the team does not have plans to produce fully grown brains, and as such don’t forsee any issues where ethics are concerned. So if they’re not growing us some serious gray matter, what’s all this then you ask? According to the team, the ability to produce pint size brains could come in handy in the study of brain diseases and conditions – stuff down the lines of schizophrenia, and rare brain conditions such as microcephaly.
According to Dean Burnett, a Cardiff University psychiatry lecturer: “The human brain is the most complex thing in the known universe and has a frighteningly elaborate number of connections and interactions, both between its numerous subdivisions and the body in general. Saying that you can replicate the workings of the brain with some tissue in a dish in the lab is like inventing the first abacus and saying you can use it to run the latest version of Microsoft Windows – there is a connection there, but we’re a long way from that sort of application yet.”
That said, it’s not likely that an army of synthetic superhuman hybrids will take over the world soon. Then again, if history is any guide, mankind never turns down a chance to play God in some clandestine lab or other.
In the meantime, evolution has been getting jiggy with it too: