The grand 21st-century movement toward industrialized biology took a rapid scurry forward this year with the invention of a remote-controlled rodent.
The ”ratbot,” created at the State University of New York’s Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, is a lab rat wearing a tiny radio-controlled backpack, operated by a human working at a remote laptop computer. Three wires connect the backpack to the rat’s brain. One sends a signal that makes the rat turn left, the other makes it turn right and the third stimulates the ”medial forebrain bundle,” causing sensations of intense pleasure to the rat. By firing the pleasure button whenever the rat turns or moves in the desired direction, the human operator can direct the ratbot to scurry through tight pipes, climb trees, even master its instinctive fear and stroll boldly through brightly lighted open spaces — lured on by this overwhelming electronic bliss.