Science & Technology

Unprecedented Brain Mapping Reveals Complexity of Human Mind

In a groundbreaking study, scientists have reconstructed a detailed wiring diagram of a small piece of the human brain, offering new insights into the incredible complexity of this most sophisticated organ, the Guardian reported in an article yesterday.

Researchers from Harvard University collaborated with experts in machine learning at Google to map out the neural circuitry, connections, supporting cells and blood supply in a tiny, one cubic millimeter sample of brain tissue. The sample was taken from the cortex of a 45-year-old woman who had undergone surgery for epilepsy.

“The aim was to get a high resolution view of this most mysterious piece of biology that each of us carries around on our shoulders,” said Harvard professor Jeff Lichtman. “The reason we haven’t done it before is that it is damn challenging. It really was enormously hard to do this.”

The painstaking process involved taking electron microscope images of over 5,000 tissue slices, revealing 57,000 individual brain cells, 150 million neural connections, and 23 centimeters of blood vessels.

The detailed map uncovered numerous features not found in textbooks, such as a curious symmetry in pyramid-shaped neurons and tight whorls of signal-carrying axons. Researchers also observed rare instances of neurons making unusually strong, multi-connection bonds, which may help explain well-learned behaviors.

“We found many things in this dataset that are not in the textbooks,” Lichtman said. “We don’t understand those things, but I can tell you they suggest there’s a chasm between what we already know and what we need to know.”

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