Up Front 08/13

In my early teens I remember asking my very well-read, university educated brother, how on earth I should keep up with all of the complex issues faced by the world around me. Apart from battling with too many cerebral and intellectual concepts, brought on by reading books that were way over my head, I was also concerned about the environment, religious wars, nuclear power and the potential for a nuclear battle amongst the then super powers. He suggested that I decide on one particular issue and concentrate on understanding it. It would be better, he said, to be an expert in one subject than to know just enough about lots of things to be confused by them all.  Like many teenagers I drifted off halfway through his recommendation, probably at that time distracted by Tomorrow’s World on the telly. I didn’t take his advice and remain confused—wiser maybe—but still baffled by a world that on the one hand can murder hundreds of people with chemical weapons and on the other hand can grow a beef burger and a human brain. Not only have we learned this month that we have moved a step closer to creating meat without animals, but now it appears we have also successfully grown human brain tissue. According to the journal Nature, complex human brain tissue has been successfully developed in an Austrian laboratory. Dubbed ‘mini brains’, because they reached maximum size after just two months, the ‘cerebral organoids’ are not yet capable of thought and therefore have no potential for self-awareness or consciousness. However their existence is an incredible breakthrough. The growth of brain tissue could allow scientists to study developmental diseases that may help them to better understand schizophrenia, autism and even dementia. With the technological advances that have now made it possible for computers to work out incomprehensibly complex equations, it’s good to know that the human brain may still have some use in the future.