EyeWire via Knowing Neurons

EyeWire: A Game To Map The Brain

Solving the mysteries of the connectome may require something more powerful than a supercomputer.  The makers of EyeWire think that it’s you who can help map the brain!  This game was invented in Sebastian Seung’s Computational Neuroscience Lab at MIT and now has over 70,000 players from over 130 countries!  The best part is that the game doesn’t require a scientific background, so anyone can play!  Join the EyeWire community and be a part of neuroscience discovery!Continue reading

Connectomics by Knowing Neurons

Connectomics: Mapping the Brain

The human brain is filled with approximately 100 billion neurons, each of which makes a multitude of connections to neighboring neurons.  The diversity of these neurons and vast interconnections facilitate processes such as those involved in decision making, evoking a memory, riding a bike, or simply reading this sentence.  Incorrect wiring of these neurons may be the basis of some mental disorders and deficits.  To understand how the structure of neural networks mediates function, researchers have emphasized the development of techniques to identify how every neuron is intimately connected to its neighbor neurons.  And with this, the field of connectomics is born.Continue reading

Zinc finger nucleases: genomic scissors via Knowing Neurons

Zinc Finger Nucleases: Genomic Scissors

The potential to manipulate DNA sequences and insert genes with the use of zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) has huge implications for human genetic disease therapeutics.  One exciting example is a clinical trial that is using ZFN technology to disrupt the gene for the HIV co-receptor CCR5 and protect against the progression of HIV to AIDS.  As shown in the infographic below, ZFNs introduce DNA sequence changes into individual genes to create deletions, insertions, or base substitutions.  ZFN technology is a powerful tool that enables scientists to study the effects of these changes on gene function and may one day be used to treat human genetic disorders.Continue reading

Chromosome Silencing: Turning Off Genes in Down Syndrome

Close your eyes and try to imagine medical treatment in the future.  I envision sophisticated robots wielding lasers that precisely eliminate deadly tumors.  I predict that insight from genome wide association studies (GWAS) will explode allowing for personalized human genomics to move center stage.  Effectively identifying genetic abnormalities has the potential to take the guesswork out of choosing the most effective drug treatment for an individual.  In my wildest daydreams, I imagine a technology that would enable silencing of entire extra chromosomes associated with developmental disorders.Continue reading

C. elegans Knowing Neurons

Imaging the Brain with Sculpted Light

Perhaps the biggest goal in neuroscience is to understand how individual neurons interact with each other in both space and time.  The more detailed our understanding of complex neural networks is, the more we can understand how an organism’s nervous system processes information to generate behavior.  To achieve this goal, neuroscience research has focused on obtaining detailed anatomical wiring maps, such as those produced by the Human Connectome ProjectContinue reading

Retinal Prostheses: Restoring Vision to the Blind

Vision is arguably one of our most important senses.  We rely on it to recognize color, shape, movement, distance, and perspective about the world around us.   Although all parts of the eye help us perceive our environment, the most vital part is the retina, the thin layer of tissue that lines the back of the eye.  This structure contains several layers of cells interconnected by synapses.  When light enters through the eye, it passes all the way through the retina, until it is captured by photoreceptors.  These cells then convert the light energy into tiny electrochemical impulses, which are processed by retinal neurons, before the signal is sent to the brain.Continue reading

CLARITY

We live in a three dimensional world.  X, Y and Z are the coordinates that define the space in which we occupy and are the boundaries that define the natural world.  Nature has learned to take full advantage of this space and has created beautiful three-dimensional structures that fill every dimension to the fullest.  Below is a photograph from one of my favorite photographers, Ansel Adams.  Continue reading

New Microscope Helps Neuroscientists Ask New Questions

Last week, President Obama announced the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative, a 10-year project to map the human brain.  President Obama introduced BRAIN as a way of encouraging neuroscientists to develop new technologies to study how neurons within the brain communicate with each other. New technologies are essential to helping neuroscientists ask new questions about how the brain works.  This project is similar to two other major projects: The Human Brain Project (European Union), which is working on a computer simulation of the entire brain, and The Human Connectome Project (National Institutes of Health) which is using state of the art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to track projections all over the brain.Continue reading

You Are Here: Mapping The World With Neurons

“You are here.”  It’s the phrase that you’ll find on almost any map, punctuated with the ubiquitous oversized arrow.  It is the salient mark in a sea of confusing lines, shapes and labels that provides orientation and a sense of direction.  Since the release of Google Maps and smart phones, many of us have become accustomed to having a boundless map in the palms of our hands, one that constantly updates according to our position in the world, complete with a large arrow.  But in the absence of a map, directory, or an oversized arrow, how do you find your way?  Where is the internal map in your brain and how does it store information about the world in a sea of connected neurons?  Neuroscientists have been asking these questions for nearly thirty years now, and we only have a vague idea of how the brain forms internal representations of the outside world.Continue reading

What do single cell green algae have to do with the state of the art of neuroscience?

Well, a lot actually!  Green algae, or Chlamydomonas reinhardtii to be formal, are the unicellular organisms with a unique trait that has been helping make huge advances in modern neuroscience in only the past eight years.  In their natural environment, these little organisms use an “eye spot” located inside the cell to detect light and to swim toward it (phototaxis).  Researchers have been studying these little critters for years and discovered the algae use a unique photosensitive ion channel that converts a light signal into a voltage change that provides information to the algae.Continue reading