Daily Archives: December 22, 2019

Optogenetic chip that imitates the brain created by scientists

Using techniques from the emerging field of optogenetics, a group of researchers from the RMIT University in Australia claims to have built a device that mimics the ways in which the brain stores information.

Thanks to these special techniques, researchers can use light to manipulate neurons, essentially to turn them on or off like a switch. The study was published in Advanced Functional Materials. It is a chip made from an ultra-thin material that responds to different wavelengths of light by modifying an electrical resistance.

According to Sumeet Walia, head of the research team, this new device could be used in the field of artificial intelligence, in particular that which tends to imitate the functionality of the brain: “Our optogenetically inspired chip imitates the fundamental biology of the best computer of nature: the human brain. Being able to store, erase and process information is fundamental for computing, and the brain does it in an extremely efficient way,” says Walia, confident about the possibility of simulating the neural approach of the brain via this chip.

Thought naturally goes to bionic brains, something that for the moment still belongs to science fiction but that the researcher himself brings up in relation to any future applications of such a technology. Moreover, it could also have positive consequences in more practical areas or in any case closer to everyday reality, as Taimur Ahmed, the study’s lead author, admits. The technology on which this is based could in fact be used to better understand how the brain works and perhaps to create new therapies for those suffering from cognitive disorders.

Classified new African dwarf monkey lived more than 4 million years ago

A new species of small monkey that lived in the regions of today’s Kenya 4.2 million years ago has been described by a group of researchers. The study of the fossil has been published in the Journal of Human Evolution.

The new monkey, named Nanopithecus browni (the name was chosen in honor of a researcher, Francis Brown of the University of Utah), was very small and the adult specimens weighed only 1-1.3 pounds. It was the same size as today’s talapoina monkey, considered the smallest monkey in the Old World, currently represented by two species: Miopithecus talapoin and Miopithecus ogouensis.

Talapoine monkeys are part of a larger group, that of vervet monkeys. The talapoini to date are in central-western Africa, in tropical forests, and are thought to have suffered a shrinkage of the body, during the course of evolution, to respond to increasingly intricate habitats, full of plants, trees and swamps.

The remains of Nanopithecus browni have however been found in Kenya, eastern Africa, in a habitat that was once dry and covered by wide open forest prairies. This means, according to the researchers and authors of the study, that this little monkey has undergone a more complex evolution and in any case different with respect to the Cercopitec.

The nanism of the monkey Nanopithecus browni should have occurred earlier and differently, which suggests that the forms of evolutionary dwarfism in apes must have occurred more than once and in very different habitats, in response to different needs.