The line between living organisms and machines has just become a whole lot blurrier. European researchers have developed “neuro-chips” in which living brain cells and silicon circuits are coupled together. The achievement could one day enable the creation of sophisticated neural prostheses to treat neurological disorders, or the development of organic computers that crunch numbers using living neurons. To create the neuro-chip, researchers squeezed more than 16,000 electronic transistors and hundreds of capacitors onto a silicon chip just 1 millimeter square in size.
They used special proteins found in the brain to glue brain cells, called neurons, onto the chip. However, the proteins acted as more than just a simple adhesive. “They also provided the link between ionic channels of the neurons and semiconductor material in a way that neural electrical signals could be passed to the silicon chip,” said study team member Stefano Vassanelli from the University of Padua in Italy.