Neurons communicate via electrical pulses that shimmy down long branches called axons and dendrites. It is the emergent communication from these vast networks that somehow bring about complicated, high-order function in our body’s nervous system.
But how are these branches formed in the first place? How do the axons and dendrites know where to go so that the “correct” function results? This is an enormous question and many researches are experimenting with how neuron networks actually develop (this will later be highlighted in our upcoming academic research topical category).
Understanding this developmental process is critical to fabricating functioning neuron devices in silicon. If the neurons are to grow and live happily on a computer chip, then the environment on that chip must be just right for the finicky brain cell.
Also, if the route to fabricating the device is to have baby neurons grow their branching networks on their own (which is a typical method used by researchers), and if we want the device to result in a specific function, then it might be very important to know how to guide the growing branches to the appropriate neighboring neuron (although this will be an important point of debate).
John Thomas, a professor at the Salk Institute, has recently reported on an important discovery on a certain protein interaction occurring in the neuron’s environment that signals to a growing branch to “go the other way!” Read more about this work, and consider how it could be a vital bit of biology that will aid in controlling how neurons may develop and live in a silicon world.
[ Read the article from ScienceDaily News ]