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Neuroboffins use supercomputer to partially build DIGITAL RAT BRAIN

Not all brain boxes happy with brain drain to 'narrow' project

A section of rat brain has been digitally reconstructed by a huge team of 82 scientists, some of whom had been working on the project for decades.

The research was led by scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), who said that they had only completed a "first draft reconstruction of a piece of the neocortex."

On Thursday, boffins on the Blue Brain Project – the simulation core of the €1.2bn Human Brain Project, funded by the European Union – showed off their reconstruction of the neocortical micro-circuitry of the rat brain. The EPFL added that anyone interested in the results can now get their mitts on the data.

It said that the digi rat brain was:

[A] detailed computer representation of about a third of a cubic millimetre of brain tissue containing about 30,000 neurons connected by nearly 40 million synapses.

Simulating the emergent electrical behaviour of this virtual tissue on supercomputers reproduced a range of previous observations made in experiments on the brain, validating its biological accuracy and providing new insights into the functioning of the neocortex.

It apparently took 10 years of hard computational science graft to create the algorithms and software needed to digitally reconstruct and simulate the tissue.

The boffins' lengthy paper was published in the Cell journal.

“The algorithm begins by positioning realistic 3D models of neurons in a virtual volume, respecting the measured distribution of different neuron types at different depths," said lead author Michael Reimann, who developed the algorithm used to suss out the locations of the nearly 40 million synapses in the micro-circuitry.

"It then detects all locations where the branches of the neurons touch each other – over 600 million. It then systematically prunes all the touches that do not fit with five biological rules of connectivity. That leaves 37 million touches. These are the locations where we constructed our model synapses."

But such use of computer modelling to simulate a rat's brain has been criticised by some neuroscientists who have claimed that the focus of the thinking on research was too narrow. ®

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