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In Pursuit of a Mind Map, Slice by Slice

Mapping the brain at the connectome level seems daunting, but it’s an exciting step in understanding how our brains work. As noted in the article, the connectome is a series of static images, so it would seem that the next stage, perhaps massively more complicated, would be studying the connectome’s action in time. – Ilene

In Pursuit of a Mind Map, Slice by Slice

By ASHLEE VANCENY Times

Excerpts:

Dr. Lichtman and his team of researchers at Harvard have built some unusual contraptions that carve off slivers of mouse brains as part of a quest to understand how the mind works. Their goal is to run slice after minuscule slice under a powerful electron microscope, develop detailed pictures of the brain’s complex wiring and then stitch the images back together. In short, they want to build a full map of the mind.

The field, at a very nascent stage, is called connectomics, and the neuroscientists pursuing it compare their work to early efforts in genetics. What they are doing, these scientists say, is akin to trying to crack the human genome — only this time around, they want to find how memories, personality traits and skills are stored.

[...]

Dr. Lichtman estimates it will be several years before they can contemplate a connectome of a mouse brain, but there are some technological advances on the horizon that could cut that time significantly. Needless to say, a human brain would be far more complex and time-consuming.

“Hopefully, we are returning with a burst of new energy to the question of how the brain is wired up,” said Gary S. Lynch, a well-known brain researcher at the University of California, Irvine. “Lacking a blueprint, we’re never going to get anywhere on the most profound and fun questions that drew everyone to neuroscience in the first place: what is thought, consciousness?”

Full article here: Seeking the Connectome, a Mental Map, Slice by Slice – NYTimes.com.


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