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article imageComplicated electronics: The first retina wiring diagram produced

By Tim Sandle     Aug 10, 2013 in Science
Researchers have created a neural wiring diagram of a chunk of mouse retina by analyzing thousands of electron microscopy images. This has produced the first map of an animal's retina.
A goal of neuroscience research is to create a wiring diagram of each of the brain’s neurons and its connections. This is not an easy undertaking for the human brain has about 100 billion neurons, with more than 100 trillion connections, or synapses, among them.
An example of this complexity has been shown through the lengths that have been gone through to create a map of the retina of a mouse. The retina is a light-sensitive layer of tissue, lining the inner surface of the eye. The optics of the eye create an image of the visual world on the retina, which serves much the same function as the film in a camera.
The task has been carried out by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research. To do this, the team used an innovative imaging technique called serial block-face scanning electron microscopy, a method to generate high resolution three-dimensional images from biological samples such as brain tissue.
The technique involved slicing 25-nanometer-thick sections of tissue off a chunk of the retina and imaging them one at a time. In total, the researchers imaged 3,200 such sections from a 200-micrometer by 300-micrometer portion of the mouse retina. A nanometer is equal to one billionth of a meter; and a micrometer is one-millionth of a meter.
The retina sections were then reconstructed into a complete three-dimensional wiring diagram of the 950 neurons in the tissue sample. This took several hundred scientists over 20,000 hours to complete.
The findings have been published in the science journal Nature.
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