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First map of insect brain signals ‘big step forward’ in understanding thoughts

According to a new study, a map showing the 3,016 neurons in a baby fruit fly brain is the first such map.

Researchers claim that the map of the insect’s brain is the most detailed ever created. It shows every neuron (or messenger cell) in the organ, and how they are wired together.

Experts believe it will help them understand the mechanisms of thought and behavior and have called it a “big leap forward”.

Professor Marta Zlatic, and Professor Albert Cardona of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology based at Cambridge, led the project.

Image: A fruit flies in a laboratory. File pic

Professor Zlatic stated that the structure of the brain’s brain circuit can influence the computations it can make. “But, until now, we haven’t seen any structure except for the C. elegans roundworm, the tadpole from a low chordate and the larvae of a marine anelid. All of these brains contain several hundred neurons.”

“This is a sign that neuroscience has been largely operating without circuit maps.

“We don’t know the brain structure, so we guess at how computations will be implemented.”

“But now we can begin to gain a mechanistic understanding how the brain works.”

Researchers spent 12 years on the work, and imaging took only about one day per neuron.

The Science journal published the research as a joint effort with scientists at Johns Hopkins University in America and University of Cambridge. It was an amalgamation of experts from both universities to create the largest brain connectome ever created – a map of the brain’s neural connections.

Researchers had to scan thousands upon thousands of brain slices from the larvae in order to create an image of their neural connections. Then, they painstakingly reconstructed them to complete the map.

They could then begin to carefully annotate the connections between neurons and the reconstructed picture.

Jo Latimer (head of neurosciences at the Medical Research Council), said that this was a significant step in answering key questions about the brain’s functioning.

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The current technology isn’t advanced enough to map connectomes for larger animals like large mammals. However, this breakthrough could change that.

Researchers also mapped the 3,016 neurons. They also mapped 548,000 synapses, which are the points at which information is transmitted between neurons.


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