The 3D map of the brain of a fly thanks to connectomics

Online the most detailed map ever of brain of an animal. Google researchers published it in collaboration with the FlyEM team of the Janelia Research Campus in Virginia. It is a 3D model high resolution with 20 million synapses that connect the approximately 25,000 neurons present in a quarter of the organ belonging to a fruit fly.

Connections: Google and the brain map

The project is considered a milestone in the field of neuroscience and for the connettomica, the area that tends to accurately reproduce the structure of the nervous system down to the basic elements that compose it. To understand what are the margins for improvement it is sufficient to think that to date only the brain of the caenorhabditis elegans worm has been reproduced in full with this technique. The longer-term goal is that which aims to one day be able to apply the knowledge acquired also to the human being.

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To achieve the result visible in the video above, it was first necessary to dissect the brain of the insect into portions about 20 microns thick, one third of that of one of our hair. Subsequently, each portion was bombarded with electron flows in order to obtain information concerning 50 trillion of vexel, the three-dimensional equivalent of a pixel. Finally the data was fed to an algorithm that recreated the map.

A complex process, not fully automated: it took two years and thousands of hours to verify the correctness of the model using techniques that include the use of 3D editing software and viewers for the virtual reality.

The road ahead is still very long. The initiative examined the organ of an animal with a total volume of neurons estimated at 100,000, affecting only 25%: that of the human being counts 86 billion. According to Joshua Vogelstein, biomedical engineer and co-founder of the Open Connectome Project, it will take at least another 15 years before concrete results applicable to the medical field can be achieved.

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