Publication date: Jan 22, 2020
Reported today on The Verge
For the full article visit: https://www.theverge.com/2020/1/22/21076806/google-janelia-flyem-fruit-fly-brain-map-hemibrain-connectome
Reported today in The Verge.
Google publishes largest ever high-resolution map of brain connectivity
Scientists from Google and the Janelia Research Campus in Virginia have published the largest high-resolution map of brain connectivity in any animal, sharing a 3D model that traces 20 million synapses connecting some 25,000 neurons in the brain of a fruit fly.
The model is a milestone in the field of connectomics, which uses detailed imaging techniques to map the physical pathways of the brain. This map, known as a “connectome,” covers roughly one-third of the fruit fly’s brain. To date, only a single organism, the roundworm C. elegans, has had its brain completely mapped in this way.
Connectomics has a mixed reputation in the science world. Advocates argue that it helps link physical parts of the brain to specific behaviors, which is a key goal in neuroscience. But critics note it has yet to produce any major breakthroughs, and they say that the painstaking work of mapping neurons is a drain on resources that might be better put to use elsewhere.
“The reconstruction is no doubt a technical marvel,” Mark Humphries, a neuroscientist at the University of Nottingham, told The Verge. But, he said, it’s also primarily a resource for other scientists to now use. “It will not in itself answer pressing scientific questions; but it might throw up some interesting mysteries.”
The 3D map produced by Google and the FlyEM team at Janelia is certainly a technical achievement, the product of both automated methods and laborious human labor.
The first step in creating the map was to slice sections of fruit fly brain into pieces just 20 microns thick, roughly a third the width of a human hair. Fruit flies are a common subject in connectomics as they have relatively simple brains about