Documenting the Coming Singularity

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Teaching computers to understand how we're wired

MITnews - 1.28.10 (by Anne Trafton)

(Graphic: Christine Daniloff).

C. elegans, a tiny worm about a millimeter long, doesn’t have much of a brain, but it has a nervous system — one that comprises 302 nerve cells, or neurons, to be exact. In the 1970s, a team of researchers at Cambridge University decided to create a complete “wiring diagram” of how each of those neurons are connected to one another. Such wiring diagrams have recently been christened “connectomes,” drawing on their similarity to the genome, the total DNA sequence of an organism. The C. elegans connectome, reported in 1986, took more than a dozen years of tedious labor to find.

Now a handful of researchers scattered across the globe are tackling a much more ambitious project: to find connectomes of brains more like our own. The scientists, including several at MIT, are working on technologies needed to accelerate the slow and laborious process that the C. elegans researchers originally applied to worms. With these technologies, they intend to map the connectomes of our animal cousins, and eventually perhaps even those of humans. Their results could fundamentally alter our understanding of the brain.

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