New Buzz: 3-D Map of Fly Brain

Using a reverse-engineering method similar to that of the Blue Brain Project, Jenn-Kang Hwang and her team at the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan have engineered a computer-simulated  fruit fly brain with single-cell precision.

The researchers stained (using green-fluorescent protein) and imaged tens of thousands of neurons in the fly brain and used complex gene-marking procedures to find out which cells interacted with one another.

These methods helped them elucidate the architecture of specific networks of cells, and that information allowed for a reconstruction of the pathways of functional brain regions, and ultimately the full structure of the brain.  The authors compare their model of interacting neurons to a city highway system, writing:

Each unit is like a city containing local intersected streets and avenues linked to other cities through multi-lane highways without cross-traffic.  Sometimes, several geographically closed units form a family working together for a specific function requiring intensive information processing.

The researchers also address the age-old brain/computer comparison, pithily stating:

It seems that a fly brain is smarter and more complicated than any computer built thus far.

However, their work by no means represents a full understanding of the workings of the fruit fly brain and the translation of neural network to behavior (that level of understanding is a ways away); rather, it’s a useful visual tool for testing hypotheses about specific neural interactions in the fruit fly brain, and locating neurons of interest.  It’s akin to navigating on a road trip – why use a glove compartment full of small, unconnected state maps when you can use a nice, big road atlas?

The Hwang team has published the results of their brain-mapping project online for free and open access, just like the Human Genome Project did in 2003.  To see the exciting images and videos, go here.

h/t sciencedaily.com

About the author

Sam McDougle

SAM MCDOUGLE is a Ph.D. candidate in Psychology and Neuroscience at Princeton University. His writing has appeared in Vice and The Atlantic.

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1 Comment

  • That’s pretty amazing that a fly’s brain is still more complex than a computer. I’m looking forward to reading more from this blog.

    Cheers!
    Marcelle

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