Game Based Brain Reconstruction

Moritz helmst%c3%a4dter

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.

Brilliant Brains

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.”

DLD13 conference Munich - "patterns that connect" - Germany January 20-22, 2013

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.”

Mentioned in this live blog

Portrait moritz helmstaedter
Moritz Helmstaedter
Max Planck Institute
Research Group Leader
Max Planck Institute

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