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Mind meld meets reality in rats and other science news

A roundup of some of the week's science headlines:

Science fiction, minus the fiction: The scientists call it a "brain link," and it is the closest anyone has gotten to a real-life "mind meld": the thoughts of a rat romping around a lab in Brazil were captured by electronic sensors and sent via Internet to the brain of a rat in the United States.

The result: the second rat received the thoughts of the first, mimicking its behaviour, researchers reported on Thursday in Scientific Reports. Adding to its science-fiction feel, the advance in direct brain-to-brain communication could lay the foundation for what Duke University Medical Center neurobiologist Miguel Nicolelis, who led the research, calls an "organic computer" in which multiple brains are linked to solve problems solo brains can't.

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There are ethical concerns about the experiment, along with some criticism about the research's apparently unsurprising findings.

Nicolelis's lab received $26-million from the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for work on brain-machine interfaces, as this field is called. Videos of the experiments are available at – Reuters

Move over Kimye, here's a real star pregnancy: Scientists have found what they believe to be a planet-in-the-making that is still gathering material left over from the formation of its parent star. The object appears as a faint blob nested inside a disk of gas and dust that swirls around a very young star known as HD 100546, located about 335 light years away in the constellation Musca, or The Fly, astronomers report in a paper published on Thursday in the Astrophysical Journal.

"So far, planet formation has mostly been a topic tackled by computer simulations," lead researcher Sascha Quanz, with ETH Zurich's Institute for Astronomy in Switzerland, said in a statement.

"If our discovery is indeed a forming planet, then for the first time scientists will be able to study the planet-formation process."

Light travels about 299,792 kilometres per second, or about 10 trillion kilometres a year. The embedded object appears to be about the size of Jupiter, although it is about 68 times farther away from its parent star than Earth is from the sun. At that distance, the object takes 360 years to complete one orbit around its star. – Reuters

Hands off still means brain on: Think you can handle making a left-hand turn while chatting on your cell? Even if the driver is using the phone hands-free, new research from St. Michael's Hospital shows your brain can't hack it. Using an MRI machine to map the response, the Toronto hospital simulated the driving experience, complete with steering wheel, brake pedal and accelerator. The scans showed that more of the brain is used to make a left-hand turn, the researchers said. Once the participants were asked some true-false questions (example: does a triangle have four sides?), the part of the brain that controls vision reduced its activity while the part that managed attentiveness to the conversation clicked on – a problem considering the visual co-ordination needed to successfully make a left-hand turn. Next steps involve larger studies with different age groups, but you can read the study online in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. – Aleysha Haniff

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