Squids are one of many animals capable of changing color when they feel threatened, frightened, or just need to be a little dressier, but while many animals can change color, almost none can do it as quickly as squid. It's long been a mystery to science just how squid send the instructions to the cells that change their pigmentation, called iridophores, and how those cells respond to the stimuli so quickly. In an effort to find out what stimulates those cells, the DIY bio-hackers at Backyard Brains teamed with resaerchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Using a technique they had already tested by making a cockroach dance, the team attached an electrode to the squid's dorsal fin, allowing them to send electrical impulses into the animal. The electrical impulses they chose to deliver? The Cypress Hill classic "Insane in the Brain."
Backyard Brains has developed a product which allows cockroaches to be controlled via remote control, called Roboroach. Not exactly fueled by futuristic science, the rig is more of a clever do-it-yourself solution: When a cockroach's antennae hit a wall, it knows to move in the other direction; Roboroach stimulates those antennae and tricks them into thinking it hit some kind of blockage, telling the roach to move in another direction. The point of Roboroach, aside from enslaving the species and living out our daily lives through remote-controlled cockroaches from the safety of our own home, is to learn about human physiology, says Backyard Brains cofounder Greg Gage.
"You could argue that there are slight differences between the neurons in cockroaches and in humans.
But they are really similar: They both encode information the same way, and they both look the same way. So you can learn a lot about human physiology from studying these simple creatures."
Roboroach will be available for purchase soon, and Backyard Brains will make code and schematics available for download so aspiring Dr. Roachensteins can build their own rigs for free.