The human brain is revealed by groundbreaking images

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For something as instrumental to all human existence and experience as the brain, many aspects of it remain thoroughly mysterious.
Thanks to groundbreaking new digital images, models, and 3D maps created by Google Research and scientists at Harvard University, the physical structure of the brain has never been so clear.
And yes, this “deli slicer for the brain” is itself quite remarkable and has been instrumental for other brain studies.
The same treatment for the entirety of just one human brain would be a billion terabytes, which is about as much digital data as the world creates in a year.
“How are we ever going to really come to terms with all this complexity?” The average adult human brain is about 1,200 centimeters3, or 1.2 million millimeters3.
The decade-long project to reconstruct a part of the brain looked at just 0.000083 percent of a typical adult brain.
“A terabyte is, for most people, gigantic, yet a fragment of the human brain — just a minuscule, teeny-weeny little bit of human brain — is still thousands of terabytes.” This type of work has comprised Lichtman’s entire illustrious career.
Lichtman and his team work to create comprehensive, detailed images of all brain structures at the individual cell level.


Many aspects of the brain are still completely unknown, despite its importance to human existence and experience. The physical makeup of the brain is now more understood than ever before, thanks to ground-breaking new digital photos, models, and 3D maps produced by Google Research and Harvard University scientists.

There is amazing technology at work. The team, which included researchers from Google and Harvard University’s Lichtman Laboratory, used electronic microscopy and state-of-the-art artificial intelligence to examine a minuscule brain sample that weighed only one cubic millimeter (0 point000002 pints) and produce a plethora of new models, maps, and images.

In just one cubic millimeter, the brain contains approximately 57,000 cells and 150 million synapses—the crucial connections that connect neurons. The original slice, which was made from the brain of a 45-year-old woman during an epilepsy surgery, was cut into about 5,000 separate slices, each about 34 nanometers thick, so that each could be imaged separately with electron microscopy. Indeed, this “deli slicer for the brain” is pretty amazing in and of itself, and it has helped with other brain research as well.

Together with dozens of other neuroscientists, Viren Jain from Google and Jeff Lichtman, the namesake of the Harvard Lichtman Lab, worked to take thousands of microscope images of brain tissue and use custom artificial intelligence models to reconstruct them into an entire 3D sample. The project took approximately ten years to finish, and the 1,400 terabytes (1,04 petabytes) of data it contains are all openly accessible. A billion terabytes, or roughly the amount of digital data produced worldwide in a year, would be required for the same treatment of a single human brain.

When it comes to the project, Vain says, “It’s a little bit humble.”. A typical adult human brain measures 1,200 centimeters, or 1.2 million millimeters, in diameter. “How are we ever going to really come to terms with all this complexity?”. Only 0.000083 percent of a typical adult brain was examined in the ten-year project to reconstruct a portion of the brain.

According to Lichtman, the word “fragment” has an ironic connotation. “A terabyte may seem enormous to most individuals, but thousands of terabytes can be found in a tiny, tiny portion of the human brain. “.

Lichtman’s whole distinguished career has consisted of this kind of work. He is an expert in “connectomics,” the rapidly developing field that resembles genomics but focuses on the brain. Lichtman and his colleagues strive to produce thorough, granular images of every brain structure down to the level of individual cells. The hope is that by creating this map, important knowledge about brain function and associated pathology will become accessible.

This ambitious project is already progressing well in its first phase. A few axons formed an odd, whirling pattern that the team had never seen before. It is unclear, nevertheless, if this whorl is a result of the woman’s epilepsy, since the small piece of brain was removed from her.

In a 2017 interview with The Harvard Gazette, Lichtman referred to the brain as “Depressingly complex.”. Nonetheless, he has cause for some optimism considering the advancements he and his group have made.

When studying the entire mouse brain becomes commonplace, you might consider applying it to, say, animal models of autism. A level of knowledge about brains exists that does not currently exist. We are aware of how behavior shows up on the outside. A subset of the perturbed molecules are known to us. However, up until now, there was no way to view the wiring diagrams in between. There’s a way now,” Lichtman said.

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