Soldiers will control battlesuits using their own nerve impulses, thanks to artificially grown human nervous systems. Cybering lovers could control sex toys over the net and "feel" when they're touched, using the same biotechnology. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have succeeded in growing a miniature human nervous system in culture, inside an artificial network. They hope it could be used to repair nerve damage, but the ability to grow fully functional human nerves suggests all sorts of other possibilities. Click through for more details.

In previous studies, the UPenn group succeeded in growing axons from rat neurons, removed from the rats' dorsal root ganglia. Neurosurgery professor Douglas H. Smith and his team induced the neurons to grow ganglia on two nutrient-filled plastic plates, then pulled the plates apart slowly according to a computer-controlled progression. "Mechanical tension" caused the neurons to grow into long tracts of living axons. The researchers were able to implant the cultured axons into a model of a rat's spinal cord injury.

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This time around, Smith's team obtained neurons from 16 humans' dorsal root ganglia, and put them in a special "growth chamber." Once again, they used the "stretch growth technique" to pull them apart. The neurons survived for over three months in culture, while keeping ability to respond to electrical signals transmitted along the nerve fibers. [Newswise]