(DAILYMAIL)Tiny human brains connected to the minds of rats have sparked a major ethical debate among researchers.

Two papers being presented at a renowned US neuroscience conference this week claim to have hooked human brain tissue to the minds of rats and mice.

Ethicists have questioned whether the move could one day give the animals a consciousness, meaning they will be entitled to 'respect' in future.

It could even mean injected rodents cross the species barrier with humans to become an intelligent hybrid organism.

The tiny human brains, known as organoids, were hooked up to rat brains and blood supplies by growing physical links between them.

Made up of small clumps of cells, the organoids act similarly to our neurons, and are grown from human stem cells.

Several labs have integrated these organoids into rats' biology, with one team claiming they could shine a light into a rat's eye to stimulate neurons in the mini-brain, according to researchers speaking to medical magazine Stat.

Neurons from a human brain organoid have sent axons - 'wires' that carry signals from one neuron to another - into 'multiple regions of the host mouse brain,' according to a team led by Professor Fred Gage of the Salk Institute in San Diego, California.

This suggests that the tissue could become functionally linked with the rat's brain, raising an array of ethical issues.

Scientists hope to use the mini-brains for research into brain diseases such as Alzheimer's and autism.

'But what if you could connect 1,000? That would be getting close to the number of cells in a mouse brain.

'At some future point, it could be that what you've built is entitled to some kind of respect.'

The ethical debate has arisen thanks to two papers being presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C this week.

Two teams will report they have implanted human brain organoids into the minds of lab rats and mice.

This raises issues with ethicists that organised, functional human tissue could develop further within a rodent.

'It brings up some pretty interesting questions about what allows us, ethically, to do research on mice in the first place - namely, that they're not human,' Josephine Johnston, of New York-based ethics institute The Hastings Center, told Stat.

'If we give them human cerebral organoids, what does that do to their intelligence, their level of consciousness, even their species identity?'

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