You've heard of genomics, the branch of genetics that studies full gene sequences, and maybe proteomics, which focuses on proteins encoded by a genome. Now there's the nascent field of connectomics, a story in today's New York Times tells us, whose goal is to build a map of the mind, one minuscule slice at a time. The project's progress at Massachusetts General Hospital and Children's Hospital Boston are described in this Globe story from October.
Dr. Jeff Lichtman of Harvard leads a team that is studying mice to learn how their brains are wired, in the hope that will ultimately lead to understanding how human memories, personality traits, and skills are stored, today's Times story says. That means slivers of a mouse brain are studied under an electron microscope and then images of their complex wiring will be combined to illuminate the connections between their 100 million neurons.
"The world is not yet ready for the million-petabyte data set the human brain would be,” Dr. Lichtman told the Times. “But it will be."
Another Cambridge scientist explains why it's important.
"You are born with your genes, and they don’t change afterward,” H. Sebastian Seung, a professor of computational neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is working on the computer side of connectomics, told the Times. "The connectome is a product of your genes and your experiences. It’s where nature meets nurture."
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