After nearly two decades of research and troubles with finding the proper funding, 82 scientists create digital copy of a chunk of rat brain. The team says that the feat is a milestone in brain simulation research that may someday lead to digitally reconstructing a human brain.
The announcement was made Thursday by Henry Markram, lead researcher of the project dubbed The Blue Brain project. Markram dreams about uploading the human brain into a supercomputer, but that goal is part of a larger program called the Human Brain Project, which was awarded more than $1 billion by the European Commission, so far.
Nevertheless, both projects stirred controversy and hot debates ever since their launch. Last year, about 800 neuroscientists signed an open letter to the European Commission to halt the programs. Scientists argued that it is too soon to pursue such an ambitious goal like artificially reconstructing the human brain, and they were upset by the way the projects were managed.
But Markram said Thursday that he and his team were able to create a map of a portion of rat brain with 30,000 neurons and 37 million synapses. He also expressed his hope that his critics may finally be convinced that the project is feasible and it has results. Nevertheless, reconstructing the human brain is far more complex since it has about 100 billion neurons and more than 100 trillion synapses, according to some estimates.
Cori Bargmann, head of the Rockefeller University’s Kavli Neural Systems, was impressed with the tremendous amount of work put in by the Blue Brain project team. But she acknowledged that brain simulations “are in their infancy.”
Bragmann likened the achievement with building a 747 jet airliner that no one has ever seen it fly but looks very promising. Yet, Dr. Markram’s work is focused on digitally recreating the physical structure of the brain with all its components such as neurons and their connection, rather than uploading a human mind into a computer. On the other hand, there were some rumors that the team sought to recreate a synthetic human brain that would eventually gain conscience.
So far, scientists create digital copy of a chunk of rat brain, but that chunk is just a portion in the sensory cortex that allows the animal to move its hind limbs.
Researchers did not digitally copied neurons one by one. They used data on some neurons and their connections, added some more neurons in their model, and made sure that the model acted like real brain tissue when some types of brain activity were simulated.
Image Source: Pixabay
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