The brain is one of those areas of science that has researchers studying it intensely, coming up with a few answers, and then realizing that they nowhere near done with understanding it. The vast networks of neurons and the wrinkly nature of the brain are the all-time favorite mysteries of the scientific community. In order to get closer to some of the answers, a team developed a home grown brain to explain its wrinkles.
DIY lab-grown human brain
The wrinkly nature of the human brain has always baffled scientists. They couldn’t really come up with an explanation for it, and human brains are notoriously difficult to study.
Smaller mammal brains are generally smooth, so experts couldn’t really figure out the answer with the help of one of those, and getting a dead human brain wouldn’t really be much help, since dead cells don’t grow.
In order to figure out why the brain developed the ever present wrinkles for our species, a team of researchers from Harvard University needed to observe a human brain developing.
And since observing an actual one would be at least morally questionable, the team decided to make their own.
The team used an MRI machine to take a picture of a 22 week old fetus’ brain, before it started growing enough to develop wrinkles.
They then 3D printed the brain out of a gel-like substance, basically creating the white matter part of the brain.
The white matter was then coated with a thin layer of rubbery gel as the gray matter, and submerged in a vat of liquid that caused the gray matter to grow.
Why do we have those folds, anyway?
As it turns out, once it began growing, the brain instantly started developing the wrinkles.
Attempting to expand, the gray matter is limited by the space offered by the white matter below it.
As it keeps trying to expand, the strain eventually causes it to collapse, forming the sulci and gyri (grooves and round parts) that are present on the brain’s surface.
This is what causes the 150,000 km of nerve fibers and the 0.15 quadrillion connections between the neurons to start forming.
In the end, the reason why we have wrinkles in our brains is an amalgamation of physical, biological, and chemical processes.
With their new way of watching a human brain evolve, the team could now theoretically learn more about illnesses like dementia, autism, or schizophrenia, hopefully getting closer to a medical breakthrough.
Image source: Pixabay