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Cyborg Cockroaches May Become New Teaching Tools in Neuroscience Classes

Surprisingly, roach neurons aren't that different than human neurons, making the RoboRoach a learning tool for all sorts of basic principles of neuroscience

smithsonian.com

The RoboRoach. Photo: Backyard Brains

Forget fruit flies and white mice – future biology students may experiment with cyborg cockroaches to learn about neurology, Mashable reports. The company Backyard Brains aims to inspire a “neuro-revolution,” giving amateurs and curious students the means to conduct their own neurological explorations.

The company founders pointed out to Mashable that 20 percent of all people living today will eventually be diagnosed with a neurological disorder. Therefore, inspiring and teaching potential future neuroscientists with hands-on learning tools like the RoboRoach benefits us all. 

he RoboRoach, according to the creators, employs the same neuraltechnology used in treatments for Parkinson’s as well as the make-up in cochlear implants. Now, to be clear, the RoboRoach is not the answer to the diseases; but it’s meant to be a font of inspiration.

Surprisingly, roach neurons aren’t that different than human neurons, which makes the RoboRoach a good learning tool for all sorts of basic principles of neuroscience that could eventually foray into understanding more about our own species. Here’s how it works

Setting up the RoboRoach requires a bit of surgical maneuvering (including ice-water-induced anesthesia) and precision. Users will have to insert wires into the roach’s antennae and attach a temporary “backpack” to the bug’s thorax. The backpack communicates directly with the neurons (located in the roach’s antennae) via small electrical pulses, and by using an iPhone app, you can temporarily control the critter. By swiping left or right on your device, the roach’s neurons will fire, prompting it to “wall-follow” or turn. Cockroaches use their antennae to sense the proximity of walls or surfaces, so the signals trick the bug into thinking there is a wall on its right or left side.

RoboRoaches are available now for pre-order and the company is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to work out a few remaining kinks. Pledge $100 and you get your own starter kit, sans roach. Up that pledge to $150 and the team will throw in a dozen “well behaved” cockroaches, too.

Here’s a step-by-step RoboRoach DIY explanation from the makers: 

More from Smithsonian.com:

Why Cockroaches Meticulously Groom Their Antenna 
Cockroaches Have Evolved to Avoid Our Traps 

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