Mapping the Brain can be Child's Play
The human brain continues to baffle scientists around the world. The brain of Moritz Helmstädter seems up to the task – or at least he has found a clever way of tackling it. The neurobiology expert from the Max Planck Institute has come to DLD13 to speak about brain mapping and connectomics.
There are approximately 85 billion neurons in every human’s brain. Each one of these communicates with around 1000 other neurons via gaps called synapses. Helmstädter points to a picture in his presentation showing a typical image of a neuron, loosely connected to other neurons and firing messages. “But the actual brain is nothing like this,” says the scientist. “Brains are actually super dense and packed with signals.”
Crowdsourcing for Brain-Map
All neurons are small, but they vary in size greatly. This makes it nearly impossible to image them, meaning we need to map the brain’s circuits. At the moment there is no computer capable of mapping a mouse brain, however, let a lone a human brain. In order to map the retina of a mouse, Helmstädter hired 300 students who worked for 30,000 hours. “Next we want to map the neocortex – where all the thoughts and interesting things happen.”
This will involve several 100,000 hours of work, however. “We cannot hire enough students for this,” says Helmstädter. Instead he devised the computer game ‘Brain Flight’. This reconstructs the brains of mice in 3D so that it becomes possible to follow different cables through the brain (these could be capillaries, nerve fibres etc.).
“Our goal is to use collective brainpower to crack nature’s most computational device.”