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They hope to create a computer model of these connections in the future

Researchers from the University College London (UCL) in Britain have started to map the functions and connections between nerve cells in the brain, bringing them closer to creating a computer model of the body's most complex organ. 

Tom Mrsic-Flogel, study leader from the University College London, and a team of researchers, have begun to "untangle" the complex inner workings of the brain by sorting through individual connections and functions of nerve cells.

Mapping the brain's functions has been a challenging task that some scientists around the world are in the midst of attempting. For instance, Harvard researchers are creating a 3-D nanoscale model of neural circuits that shows individual connections in the neural network. Others have even started to map other information processing centers in the body, such as the spinal cord.

The task is challenging mainly because there are around 100 billion neurons in the brain, and each one is connected to thousands of other nerve cells. 

Now, researchers from UCL are making their own contribution to the cause through high resolution imaging of the visual cortex of a mouse brain. They chose this particular area because it contains thousands of neurons and millions of connections.

Mrsic-Flogel and his team used high resolution imaging to see which neurons in this area responded to a specific stimulus. Then, they sliced a portion of this tissue and added "small currents of subsets of neurons" in order to see which neurons would send electrical or chemical signals to one another. They repeated this technique over and over again until they could trace the connections and functions of these nerve cells. 

"Once we understand the function and connectivity of nerve cells spanning different layers of the brain, we can begin to develop a computer simulation of how this remarkable organ works," said Mrsic-Flogel. 

By understanding connections in the brain, the researchers hope to see how they deviate in those who have Alzheimer's, stroke and schizophrenia. But Mrsic-Flogel said it would take many years to make the computer model needed to understand these connections. 


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Hello, future!
By rabbitslayer21 on 4/11/2011 1:40:00 PM , Rating: 2
This is only the beginning... when neural mapping technology matures we'll be able to fully simulate people in software. 10-minute high-res neural scan, and bam! you're digitally cloned.




RE: Hello, future!
By geddarkstorm on 4/11/2011 5:29:19 PM , Rating: 3
It's nice to see people can still dream about pure fantasy (no, I'm not meaning that in a mean, or sarcastic way).

Though, I'm kinda disappointed in this article title. They didn't map the mouse brain, they mapped an extremely (relatively speaking) straight forward small section of the mouse brain that does a discrete function (visual processing). This has nothing to do with higher thought, and only dealt with a paltry few thousand neurons, so we're talking about between 0.00001%-0.000001% of the mouse brain. How long did it take them, and how much did their procedure alter function (they were slicing out the section completely)?


RE: Hello, future!
By JohanMeert on 4/12/2011 6:41:24 AM , Rating: 2
Microprocessors started so many years ago also with a few thousand transistors. Now were getting to the billion mark.


RE: Hello, future!
By Iketh on 4/12/2011 9:17:47 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, but that's with the aid of mutliple cores... the real comparison is between the human brain and the arcitecture of 1 core... each transistor also has only 2 signaling connections


RE: Hello, future!
By geddarkstorm on 4/12/2011 2:53:28 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, the proper comparison between a computer and the brain is based on the number of CPU cores. Each neuron you have is its own discrete CPU capable of advanced pattern decoding and processing (better than some of our modern CPUs in some aspects). Yes, that's EACH NEURON. We are a 100 billion CPU computer, with far superior, much more flexible, tunable, reversible, tweakable, and rearrangeable interconnections between each, than anything we can even imagine doing with silicon or carbon.


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