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December 2nd, 2014

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10:51 pm - Uplift version 0.5 - Wow!!!
I just read an article with the rather goofy title: The smart mouse with the half-human brain. This is the beginnings of uplifting the intelligence of animals. The meat of the article is:
Goldman's team extracted immature glial cells from donated human fetuses. They injected them into mouse pups where they developed into astrocytes, a star-shaped type of glial cell.

Within a year, the mouse glial cells had been completely usurped by the human interlopers. The 300,000 human cells each mouse received multiplied until they numbered 12 million, displacing the native cells.

"We could see the human cells taking over the whole space," says Goldman. "It seemed like the mouse counterparts were fleeing to the margins."

Astrocytes are vital for conscious thought, because they help to strengthen the connections between neurons, called synapses. Their tendrils (see image) are involved in coordinating the transmission of electrical signals across synapses.

Human astrocytes are 10 to 20 times the size of mouse astrocytes and carry 100 times as many tendrils. This means they can coordinate all the neural signals in an area far more adeptly than mouse astrocytes can. "It's like ramping up the power of your computer," says Goldman.
Intelligence leap

A battery of standard tests for mouse memory and cognition showed that the mice with human astrocytes are much smarter than their mousy peers.

In one test that measures ability to remember a sound associated with a mild electric shock, for example, the humanised mice froze for four times as long as other mice when they heard the sound, suggesting their memory was about four times better. "These were whopping effects," says Goldman. "We can say they were statistically and significantly smarter than control mice."
"This does not provide the animals with additional capabilities that could in any way be ascribed or perceived as specifically human," he says. "Rather, the human cells are simply improving the efficiency of the mouse's own neural networks. It's still a mouse."

However, the team decided not to try putting human cells into monkeys. "We briefly considered it but decided not to because of all the potential ethical issues," Goldman says.

Update: Here's an NPR article that goes into more depth - the big quote from that one is:
It might take a normal mouse four or five attempts to learn the correct route, for example. But a mouse with human brain cells could get it on the second try.
Given the greater similarities between monkeys and humans, I'm guessing that the human cells would produce a considerably less dramatic effect on them, but I also think it would have been well worth doing to try these cells in a non-endangered species of monkey. More practically, I suspect that the human brain cells would do quite a bit for a dog, and with luck someone will try that soon. Human level intelligence in a dog is drastically unlikely, but a dog as smart as one of the smarter monkeys would be very cool indeed - as long as it retained the same tameness and affinity for humans that other dogs posses. I love cats, but cats as intelligent as monkeys sounds like a rather less good idea, certainly interesting, but I'd be less eager to own one. Also, I'd definitely be wary about trying this on rats, since I'd not want significantly more intelligent rats to escape into the wild. In any case, one more SF idea has started to become real, and as long as annoying people who worry about people "playing god" don't put a stop to such experiments, interesting times are definitely ahead.
Current Mood: impressedimpressed
Current Music: Metric - Collect Call

(8 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:December 4th, 2014 03:29 am (UTC)
the humanised mice froze for four times as long as other mice when they heard the sound, suggesting their memory was about four times better

...or that they had four times the anxiety.

I have no idea what the other measures of intelligence they used were, but this one looks like nothing of the sort. I mean, would you assume that a human who screams four times as long, when startled or hurt, is smarter than the controls? That's so deeply wrong... I don't even.
[User Picture]
Date:December 4th, 2014 05:35 am (UTC)
That was definitely the most dubious part of the article. Thankfully, I saw an NPR article that did better - It might take a normal mouse four or five attempts to learn the correct route, for example. But a mouse with human brain cells could get it on the second try. Learning more than twice as fast as normal is pretty darn impressive.
[User Picture]
Date:December 4th, 2014 05:54 am (UTC)
Yeah, that's more like it.

Though I find this whole line of experimentation a bit creepy.

I mean, what if they accidentally give a mouse something like human consciousness? I don't think the ethical problems start with chimps.

How intelligent do we have to make dogs before we really need to stop owning them?
[User Picture]
Date:December 4th, 2014 06:03 am (UTC)

I seriously doubt anything like that would come up for dogs - a dog's brain and brain to body weight ratio are both far lower than a human's, so I can't see getting anything other than at most a dog as smart as a smart monkey or maybe a chimp (either of which would be very impressive, assuming the dog also remained relatively tame).

The question with chimps is far less clear. My assumption (which is only that) is that as our closest relatives, their glial cells are far closer to ours than mouse or dog glial cells, so this process might do very little for them. Of course, if I'm wrong then using this could make a sentient chimp, which would clearly be really complex and somewhat dubious.
[User Picture]
Date:December 4th, 2014 04:15 am (UTC)
And as long as this is one of the New Scientist articles that reports the original findings in some vaguely accurate fashion--odds about 25% for that, usually. Alas, I can't access the original paper right now, which is too bad because it sounds really interesting. Just getting astrocytes to implant across species could tell us a lot about how the brain works--glial cells have gone over the past couple of decades from "mostly insulation" to "maybe a whole parallel signaling system, possibly even more important than gray matter, and with weird interactions." As far as I can tell, we're now at the point of knowing enough to know how confused we are.
[User Picture]
Date:December 4th, 2014 05:39 am (UTC)
As I mention in my response above, today I saw an NPR article that seems reliable, and the results are just as impressive (with an altered mouse learning a maze more than twice as fast as normal mice).
[User Picture]
Date:December 4th, 2014 05:50 am (UTC)
Cool. And the NPR article focuses more on what the study tells us about glial cells, which makes more sense. Not that uplift technology wouldn't be awesome--though I'm holding out for something we can apply to humans as well.
[User Picture]
Date:December 4th, 2014 05:56 am (UTC)
*nods* I'm very much hoping someone develops intelligence enhancement that can be used on humans. We do seem at the forefront of a lot of nifty neurological progress though. I also saw this article on spinal cord regrowth in the NPR site when I was reading their mouse article, and it also looks pretty impressive, although clearly the potential for this to work on humans is unknown.

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