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article image'Connectomics' provide a map of the wonder that is the brain

By Abigail Prendergast     Apr 8, 2012 in Science
The human brain is a highly complex piece of biological human architecture. With a field of study known as "connectomics," scientists hope to decipher the synapses and ultimately the overall makeup of the mind and possibly the source of mental diseases.
Professor of MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Sebastian Seung, was never classically trained in neuroscience, but is now a first-year professor in said field. His work delves into a concept known as connectomics, which is "the mapping and study of neural networks," says Wired.
In his book, entitled Connectome, Seung explores the idea that brain cells develop their distinct personalities by the other neurons they communicate with.
Connectomics, for the most part, maps the neural network of the brain by looking at a person's chunk of gray matter through an electron microscope, but is a lethargic process as the cells and their synapses have to be examined manually. In fact it took 12 years for scientists to map the associations in a tiny worm's minimal set of 300 neurons. The human brain has quite a bit more brain cells than that, closer to 100 billion of them. In order to accelerate the process, Seung started developing "computer-vision algorithms" that locate various borders between each neuron.
In an April 2011 article from Reuters, an explanation of connectomics was given comparing it to genomics to some degree. The latter pretty much lays out our genetic make-up, where as the former creates a layout of the brain cells connections.
With this in mind, scientists hope that by pinpointing various flaws in these synapses, that they can discover the causes for cognitive diseases such as schizophrenia, stroke and Alzheimer's Disease.
More about Computers, Brain, Mapping, cognitive
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