Nature online has a fascinating article by science writer Jonah Lehrer about brain biologist Jeff Lichtman, whose ambition it is to map every connection in the human brain. If this remarkably complex feat could ever be accomplished–and it appears many years in the offing if it can be–it would change the way neuroscientists study the brain, and could eventually help unravel some of the brain’s deepest mysteries. Lichtman and his team are best known for developing Brainbow, the breakthrough technology that engineers neurons to emit shades of fluorescent light, which allows neuronal connections to be traced.
From the article:
Lichtman likes to think on a different scale. In recent years, he has become a leading proponent of a new field that is working to create a connectome, a complete map of neural wiring in the mammalian brain. Currently, such a map exists only for the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, which has 302 neurons. The adult human brain, in contrast, contains 100 billion neurons and several trillion synaptic connections. “I know the goal sounds daunting,” Lichtman says. He insists that such a wiring diagram is an essential undertaking, because it will allow scientists to see, for the first time, the path that information takes as it is shuttled from cell to cell, and how all these cells and the information they transmit weave together to create a conscious brain.