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Here's What Scientists Found After Mapping the Human Brain Using a Tiny Piece Removed Surgically

The scientists used an AI algorithm in order to produce 1.4 million gigabytes of data from a cubic milimeter of human brain tissue.
PUBLISHED JUN 2, 2024
Cover Image Source: YouTube | Google Research
Cover Image Source: YouTube | Google Research

The human brain is responsible for the most astonishing inventions in history and it has the potential that can open doors to endless possibilities for the future. In order to study the human brain even further, scientists took a small chunk of it and extracted a digital map of the organ to reveal fascinating details. The human brain tissue was taken out surgically from a person and the digital map shows a cubic millimeter of the brain that is full of 1.4 million gigabytes of information. It also has 57,000 cells, 230 millimeters of blood vessels, and 150 million synapses which are the connections between the neurons of our brain.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | cottonbro studio
Representative Image Source: Pexels | cottonbro studio

The research was published in Science's journal and is available online for public viewing and proofreading. “In one respect, our data set is minuscule,” Jeff Lichtman, a co-author of the study and biologist at Harvard University, told Popular Science. “But it doesn’t feel small, because when you get in it, you see it’s like a gigantic forest.” Viren Jain, co-author of the study and a  neuroscientist at Google, told Nature News, that their observation is a "little bit humbling." “How are we ever going to really come to terms with all this complexity?” he adds.



 

The first documented digital map of the brain was made in 1986 where scientists recorded 302 neurons of a roundworm, as per Jain's blog post. The Google team mapped 25,000 neurons from a fruit fly's brain tissues in 2020 and ever since then they have also mapped parts of a zebra finch and zebrafish larvae's brain. For studying the portion of the human brain, the tissues were extracted from a person who suffered from epilepsy. A lesion was made in the patient's hippocampus to remove a tissue from the left anterior temporal lobe. This part of the brain plays a pivotal role in holding our memories attached to objects, people, words, and facts.

An artificial intelligence algorithm was used to reconstruct the cells and their connections in 3D which took the research team close to 11 months. “The aim was to get a high-resolution view of this most mysterious piece of biology that each of us carries around on our shoulders,” Lichtman told The Guardian. “The reason we haven’t done it before is that it is damn challenging. It really was enormously hard to do this.”

Representative Image Source: PExels | Anna Shvets
Representative Image Source: PExels | Anna Shvets

Michael Hawrylycz, a computational neuroscientist at the Allen Institute for Brain Science credited the study as "the most computer-intensive work in all of neuroscience," per MIT Technology Review. “There were just so many things in it that were incompatible with what you would read in a textbook,” Lichtman told the outlet. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the research team also discovered cases of axons, which are the "tendrils on neurons that transmit messages, wrapping themselves into knots—but they don’t know why."

Representative Image Source:  In this photo illustration, A model of a human brain held in a hand on February 16, 2024 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)
Representative Image Source: In this photo illustration, A model of a human brain held in a hand on February 16, 2024 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

The research team's next goal is to study and map the hippocampus of a mouse. “Not only is this an impressive technological feat, this is a tool and a resource that is really aimed at sharing with the world and getting all of this scientific information out there,” Tim Mosca, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University who wasn't a part of the team, told Popular Science. “This group has done an amazing job designing all of the new tools and the pipelines to make this available to anyone who wants to look at it, wants to think about it, wants to use this in their research.”



 

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