Complete brain map of an insect

The pursuit of gaining a complete brain map of an insect is a momentous accomplishment in neuroscience, as it will grant us insight into the deep complexities of neurological processes, behaviour and action of the insect. The unprecedented understanding of the neural networks could aid us in perceiving and managing the remarkable capacities of tiny creatures.

A group of scientists achieved what is a breakthrough for neuroscience, completing a brain map of an insect. The study obtained the representation of the neuronal wiring of the brain of an invertebrate. It was a fruit or vinegar fly.

brain map of a fruit fly

Signifies a breakthrough for science

According to scientists, this discovery is historic, as it opens new avenues for the study of how the most complex thoughts and behaviors are produced.

The study was published in the prestigious journal Science. It was carried out by researchers from Johns Hopkins University in the United States and the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. After 12 years of research, they managed to complete the largest brain mapping to date.

Brains, whether of an insect or a mammal, are interconnected neural networks that perform highly complex behaviors. From this neural network, orders are given to the whole organism, such as to search for food, to protect itself from a predator or simply to manage within its environment.

Previously, through a study that lasted 14 years, they had achieved the partial connectome of a brain. In that case it belonged to a roundworm, initiated in the 1970s. Although, in that study they could not complete the mapping, the neuroscientific breakthrough was so significant that they won a Nobel Prize.

Information obtained in the fly brain mapping research.

The brain connections of the fruit fly larva brain include 3016 interconnected neurons. These neurons form a wiring of 548,000 connections. To obtain an image of the brain and its neural network, it is necessary to divide it into thousands of tissue fractions.

Each of these parts must be studied by electron microscopes and analyzed individually. Once this work is completed, the process of reconstructing and amalgamating all the parts, i.e., neuron by neuron, begins.

Once joined together, all these pieces complete the neuronal map of a brain. At the moment, this can only be achieved in the brain of an insect. In other cases, such as the brain of a mouse, for example, it is much larger and, for the moment, there is not enough technology.

Nevertheless, partial brain mapping was done, even of humans. The reason for choosing the fruit fly for this study is because it shares much of its fundamental biology with humans, with compatible genetics.

The brain map achieved by the scientists shows striking matches with machine learning circuits. Something that can help, in addition to neuroscience, to open new paths for the development of artificial intelligence.

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