Citizen scientists research motion while playing video games

Posted May 10, 2014 by Tim Sandle
A group of citizen-scientist gamers have helped a team of scientists explain how the retina processes motion. The research has revealed direction-selective computation in the retina.
Men playing Playstation 3
Men playing Playstation 3
Charlie Brewer
Scientists have long-thought the eye passes all visual information for processing up to the brain. However, from the mid-1960s, researchers have realized that the retina is sensitive to direction and speed. The problem has been with proving this theory.
One group of scientists have declared that they have solved this mystery of how the retina processes motion. This has been with the aid of citizen scientists playing an online game (such as those reported by Scientist Magazine). More than 120,000 gamers, Nature News reports, from 140 countries helped the researchers to team to map and color-code individual neurons and their connections in the retina. The researchers used retinal neuron wiring diagram created by the players and pieced together a research team to understand what was going on inside the retina.
The specific game that was played was called EyeWire. In EyeWire, players are challenged to map branches of a neuron from one side of a cube to the other. Think of it as a 3D puzzle. Players scroll through the cube (measuring about 4.5 microns per side or ~10x smaller than the average width of a human hair) and reconstruct neurons in volumetric segments with the help of an artificial intelligence algorithm.
From the gaming activities, scientists have found that two bipolar neurons in the retina firing together activate a third neuron, a starburst amacrine cell, which is wired to the brain.
The scientists were led by Sebastian Seung of MIT. The results of the study have been published in the journal Nature. The paper is titled "Space–time wiring specificity supports direction selectivity in the retina."