Fun Fact Friday!!
Shielded by our thick skulls and swaddled in layers of protective tissue, the human brain is extremely difficult to observe in action. Luckily, scientists can study this pencil-eraser-sized mass of cells – also known as a brain organoid to look closer. It’s a collection of lab-grown neurons and other brain tissue that scientists can use to learn about full-grown human brains. And it can be grown from a sample of your skin cells.
As mini brains grow, they follow all the steps of fetal brain development. By observing this process, we can learn how our neurons develop, as well as how we end up with so many more of them in our cortex, the part responsible for higher cognition like logic and reasoning, than other species.
Scientists aren’t likely to grow larger brain organoids anytime soon. Without blood vessels to feed them, their size is limited to one centimeter at most. There’s nothing quite like the actual human brain, but mini brains are an unprecedented tool for studying everything from development to disease. With luck, these humble organoids can help us discover what makes the human brain unique, and maybe bring us closer to answering the age-old question: what makes us human?
From the TED-Ed Lesson What are mini brains? – Madeline Lancaster
Animation by Adam Wells