Mail-Order Mini-Brains

brain walkingOne of the most unforgettable books I read in grammar school–maybe the sixth grade–told the story of two people who “died” in a car wreck intentionally made to happen by “the bad guys.” The villains were evil scientists and the victims a good-science man and wife.

I forget the details but somehow their brains were harvested soon after the wreck, suspended in glass jars and connected to what we would now call a computer. By means of this connection, they could communicate and could exert some physical control over materials in their lab.

What they crafted, as memory serves, were eyeballs on a piece of muscle that allowed them to jump from place to place and spy on their enemies.

I think in the end they defeated the bad guys, reconstituted their bodies and reunited their brains with the appropriate skull and lived happily ever after.

I tell this longwinded tale because I only recently revisited it after reading that…

Scientists at Johns Hopkins have created “mini brains that have been generated from skin cells, which following collection from several healthy adults, were reprogrammed to embryonic stem cells and then induced to differentiate into brain cells. Each embryonic stem cell develops into a separate mini brain.”

These clumps of neurons are not brains at all, but it makes for good press .They are standardized clumps of brain tissue created artificially for the purpose of testing the effects of toxics and treatments on a large number of “subjects” who are not rhesus monkeys or lab rats.

Mini-brains will be available by mail order later this year. Shudder. If you see them with tennis shoes, that can’t be good.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Talk about Artificial Intelligence. Imagine thousands of these mini-brains doing today’s computer work after we’ve used up all the rare earths that go into computer circuits. Science fiction is today’s reality. FF

  2. Where in the world did you get such a book? I certainly didn’t buy it for you! From time to time now I’m learning more of your childhood than I ever knew!