The Ambitious Project to Map the Mouse Brain and Unravel the Mysteries of the Human Brain
Google Research, in collaboration with esteemed research institutions, is undertaking a five-year, $33 million project to understand the complexities of the human brain and unlock the origins of mental illnesses and neurological disorders. This groundbreaking initiative, supported by the BRAIN Initiative at the National Institutes of Health, aims to pioneer advancements in the field of connectomics, which focuses on mapping cellular connections in the brain.
The Importance of Understanding the Human Brain
The human brain is a complex computational marvel composed of billions of cells. However, the workings of the brain and the causes of mental illnesses and neurodegenerative diseases remain largely unknown. Connectomics, a nascent field, holds immense promise in unraveling these mysteries and providing potential avenues for effective treatments.
Focusing on the Mouse Brain
The current project will concentrate on mapping a small portion (2-3%) of the mouse brain, specifically the hippocampal region. The hippocampus is crucial for memory encoding, attention, and spatial navigation. By charting the connectivity of this region, the researchers aim to lay the foundation for understanding the entire mouse brain and, ultimately, the human brain.
The Challenge of Mapping the Human Brain
In 2021, Google Research and its partners at Harvard achieved a milestone by mapping a small section of the human brain. However, mapping the entire human brain’s connectome requires an unprecedented amount of data, which current technology cannot handle. By focusing on the more manageable scope of the mouse brain, this project provides an opportunity to gain insights into human brain function and dysfunction.
To undertake this endeavor, the project will collect an extraordinary dataset of approximately 25,000 terabytes (25 petabytes) of brain data. This dataset, one of the largest in biology, exceeds the scale of previous connectome mapping projects. The data collected from mapping the mouse hippocampal region alone is equivalent to over 48,800 Pixel phones stacked as high as the Empire State Building.
Developing Tools and Technologies for Connectomics
In addition to mapping the brain, the project includes the development of tools and technologies to manage the massive amounts of connectomic data. These tools include flood-filling networks, which use deep learning to trace the paths of neurons in three-dimensional brain volumes, and self-supervised learning technology to extract insights from segmented volumes automatically. The project will also strengthen the core connectomics infrastructure to handle the unprecedented scale of data.
This ambitious project by Google Research represents a pivotal step toward unraveling the mysteries of neurological disorders. With the collaborative efforts of leading research institutions and cutting-edge technologies, this project has the potential to revolutionize treatments for a range of neurological conditions. As the initiative gains momentum, the scientific community eagerly awaits the insights that studying the mouse brain may provide about our own.