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Can store more than thousands computers: scientists mapped a tiny fragment of the brain, and the results simply amazed them

Maria ShevchukNews
The human brain is capable of more than we think. Source: iStock

One cubic millimeter of the human brain stores more data than thousands of modern laptops. These are the results of research by Harvard University and Google.

The scientists created the only complete three-dimensional reconstruction of the human brain's neural circuitry to date. The results are described in Science.

In a tiny cube of brain tissue, the researchers found 57,000 neurons, 230 millimeters of blood vessels, and an impressive 150 million connections between brain cells called synapses.

The data contained in this minuscule piece of temporal lobe cortex amounts to a staggering 1400 terabytes.

For comparison, the average PC user may have one terabyte of storage on their device.

Can store more than thousands computers: scientists mapped a tiny fragment of the brain, and the results simply amazed them

The map shows the labyrinthine connection pattern of each neuron and how they connect to each other. The researchers noticed a rare configuration of super-connected cells with one axon (a long protruding fiber that neurons use to send signals) forming synapses with 50 others. They also found that some axons follow strange, winding paths, and do so for unknown reasons.

The sample was taken from a patient with epilepsy, so the researchers don't know if these unusual structures have a connection to the disease or if they are just random neurological quirks.

This is the main goal of a field called connectomics, namely to create complete neural circuits that show how trillions of synaptic connections give rise to our thoughts, behaviors, and brain disorders. Creating these maps is an extremely challenging task that the researchers have been tackling for nearly a decade in collaboration with artificial intelligence experts at Google.

Can store more than thousands computers: scientists mapped a tiny fragment of the brain, and the results simply amazed them

The newly published map of the mouse cerebral cortex is an important milestone, but it is only the tip of the iceberg in brain research. To fully map the entire mouse brain with this high resolution of synapses, it would take a 1000-fold replication of their efforts.

This is the next big goal for the team, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health's BRAIN Initiative. They plan to target the hippocampus, a brain region responsible for memory and involved in neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's. Completion of the project on neural connections throughout the brains of mice and humans could open up countless breakthroughs in brain science and medicine.

It is believed that mapping the brain's neural circuits will be critical to understanding how things go wrong in various conditions, from autism to schizophrenia and traumatic brain injury.

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