Mapping a tiny portion of the brain’s cerebral cortex in incredible detail

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Mapping a tiny portion of the brain’s cerebral cortex in incredible detail

Google & Harvard Researchers develop a browsable 3D map of the minute area using 225 million images & 1.4 petabytes of data

The human brain is an incredibly complex organ — one that scientists are still trying to decode. You can call it is as one of the most complex organic machinery. Mapping this complex biological computer, which consists of 6 billion neurons connected via 100 trillion synapses is a gigantic task and the researchers at Google & Lichtman Laboratory at Harvard University have given it their best shot yet.

Collaborating on the project, scientists have created a browsable 3D map of just one-millionth of the cerebral cortex has been created using 225 million images and a whopping 1.4 petabytes of data. For explanatory purposes, the cerebral cortex is the thin surface layer of the brain found in vertebrate animals that have evolved most recently, showing the greatest variation in size among different mammals (it is especially large in humans).

Understanding the neural circuitry in the brain is pivotal to the understanding of thought, emotion, memory, behavior and consciousness. This endeavor is similar to how researchers at Google and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute unveiled the biggest and most detailed map of the Fly Brain. Only this time, we are talking about the human brain.

According to the research, the dataset comprises imaging data that covers roughly one cubic millimeter of brain tissue and includes tens of thousands of reconstructed neurons, millions of neuron fragments, 130 million annotated synapses, 104 proofread cells, and many additional subcellular annotations and structures — all easily accessible with the Neuroglancer browser interface.

Anonymously donated brain tissue was cut into approximately 5300 individual 30-nanometer sections using an automated tape collecting ultra-microtome, mounted those sections onto silicon wafers, and then imaged the brain tissue at 4 nm resolution in a customized 61-beam parallelized scanning electron microscope for rapid image acquisition.


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