Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

What are ‘Bio-Computers’ and what can they tell us about the human brain?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Bio-Computers

Mains level: Not Much


Central idea: Johns Hopkins University scientists have proposed creation of Bio-Computers’ using a new area of research called “organoid intelligence”.


  • JHU scientists will harness the processing power of the brain and help understand the biological basis of human cognition, learning, and neurological disorders.
  • Traditional methods of studying the human brain involve using rat brains, which are structurally and functionally different from human brains.

Building brain organoids in the lab

  • Scientists are building 3D cultures of brain tissue in the lab, called brain organoids, using human stem cells.
  • Brain organoids capture many structural and functional features of a developing human brain and are being used to study human brain development and test drugs.
  • However, brain organoids developed in the lab lack sensory inputs and blood circulation, which limits their growth and sophistication.

Transplanting brain organoids

  • Scientists have transplanted human brain organoid cultures into rat brains, where they formed connections with the rat brain and were functionally active.
  • However, human brain organoids are still nested in the rat-brain microenvironment, which limits their relevance to humans.

What is the new “bio-computer”?

  • The JHU researchers’ scheme combines brain organoids with modern computing methods to create “bio-computers”.
  • Brain organoids will be grown inside flexible structures affixed with multiple electrodes to record the firing patterns of neurons and deliver electrical stimuli.
  • Machine-learning techniques will be used to analyze the response patterns of neurons and their effect on human behavior or biology.

Opportunities for “bio-computers”

  • Brain organoids can be developed using stem cells from individuals with neurodegenerative diseases or cognitive disorders to reveal the biological basis of human cognition, learning, and memory.
  • “Bio-computers” could help decode the pathology of and develop drugs for neurodevelopmental and degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and microcephaly.

Challenges for bio-computers

  • Brain organoids have a diameter of less than 1 mm and have fewer than 100,000 cells on average, limiting their computing capacity.
  • Researchers will have to develop microfluidic systems to transport oxygen and nutrients and remove waste products.
  • The hybrid systems will generate large amounts of data that will need to be stored and analyzed using “Big Data” infrastructure and advanced analytical techniques.
  • An ethics team is proposed to identify, discuss, and analyze ethical issues as they arise in the course of this work.


  • Biocomputers will harness the processing power of the brain and help understand the biological basis of human cognition, learning, and various neurological disorders.
  • Scaling up brain organoids and developing microfluidic systems and analytical techniques are the key challenges.
  • Ethical issues arising from the development of biocomputers will be analyzed by an ethics team.


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