How to Map Neural Circuits With an Electron Microscope
“This giant, and potentially revolutionary, task requires custom software, electron microscopes and an incredibly sharp knife. If everything goes right, the team may be the first to create a circuit diagram that explains how mammals see.”
Photo Credit: Marc Lab / Moran Eye Institute
This is just too cool for words.
I’m reading permutation city by Greg Egan at the moment – which paints a picture of a world where the human nervous system has been sufficiently ‘mapped’ to such an extent that simulations of the brain can be run resulting in artificial (or actual – you decide) intelligence. Strong AI for the win! *ahem*
How far away is this technology? If we can map neural pathways by taking slices, scanning them with an SEM/TEM, and and automatically reconstructing the 3D original using clever software.. then all you need to do is bring it to life digitally using a wetware-friendly circuit simulator – I’m not sure such a thing exists… If not, lets develop one and call it MeatSPICE 🙂
Seriously, I have a colleague who does work on electrical models of the nervous system. You can essentially model neurons and axons as electrochemical transmission lines with inductance, capacitance and resistance. It’s a good way for physicists, biologists and biochemists to collaborate.
I also have a slight penchant for this kind of thing seeing as I love using the SEM as an imaging tool. In addition, I recall spending a couple of weeks once doing some work experience at the histopathology department of my local hospital; watching how you actually make those waxy slices and observing them under an optical microscope. (Although we were looking for cancer cells in that particular case and musing over how you could automate such a task).
I’d love to put a load of these ideas together into something tangible to research (as an aside to my already busy schedule!), but it’s a wide, diverse assembly of proto-thoughts (of which I have far too many), requiring quite a large collaboration from different fields.
On a slightly different note, WIRED has now been released as a magazine version in the UK. Which means all my pocket money is belong to them 😦