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Scientists unveil ‘wiring diagram’ for a tiny bit of brain

Neuroscientists from Seattle’s Allen Institute and other research institutions have wrapped up a five-year, multimillion-dollar project with the release of a high-resolution 3-D map showing the connections between 200,000 cells in a clump of mouse brain about as big as a grain of sand.

The data collection, which is now publicly available online, was developed as part of the Machine Intelligence From Cortical Networks program, or MICrONS for short. MICrONS was funded in 2016 with $100 million in federal grants to the Allen Institute and its partners from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, the U.S. intelligence community’s equivalent of the Pentagon’s DARPA think tank.

MICrONS is meant to clear the way for reverse-engineering the structure of the brain to help computer scientists develop more human-like machine learning systems, but the database is likely to benefit biomedical researchers as well.

“We’re basically treating the brain circuit as a computer, and we asked three questions: What does it do? How is it wired up? What is the program?” R. Clay Reid, senior investigator at the Allen Institute and one of MICrONS’ lead scientists, said today in a news release. “Experiments were done to literally see the neurons’ activity, to watch them compute.”

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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