Scientists Unveil Complete Map of Insect Brain: A Milestone in Neuroscience Research
The first complete map of an insect's brain has been revealed by scientists. Researchers from the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology (MRC-LMB) at the University of Cambridge and Johns Hopkins University, along with colleagues from the UK and US, have created the first ever wiring diagram of an insect brain.
It took 12 years of tireless effort to construct the comprehensive map, known as a connectome, which depicts the location of all 3,016 neurons in the brain of a larval fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster). There are 548,000 synapses between brain cells which act as points of connection. These synapses allow cells to exchange chemical messages which then cause electrical signals to be transmitted through the cells' wiring. This connectome of the larva’s brain encompasses the circuitry of neural pathways and all of its 3016 neurons, making it the most extensive complete brain connectome documented thus far.
The larval research conducted on fruit flies revealed circuit characteristics that strongly resembled popular and effective machine learning structures. It is anticipated that further research will uncover additional computational principles and potentially motivate the development of new artificial intelligence systems.
Vogelstein states that the brain is the physical entity that determines our identity. He states that in order to comprehend the subject fully, one must be aware of how it is connected. Neuroscience research has extensively studied fruit flies due to their intricate learning and decision-making capacities. The map also showed circuit characteristics similar to those found in machine learning structures, which could influence the development of new artificial intelligence.
Creating a complete image of a brain has been a difficult task until recently. Due to the recent technological developments, scientists are now able to use electron microscopy to image the entire brain of fruit fly larvae swiftly and to reconstruct the brain circuits from the obtained data.
Researchers are attempting to create maps of the brains of bigger organisms. Work on creating a full connectome of an adult fruit fly is in progress at Janelia. It is anticipated that, in the distant future, it will be possible to create animal brains as big and complex as those of mice; however, such work is still likely to be years away from reaching completion. It took over ten years to accomplish that task with the juvenile fruit fly. The brain of a mouse is a million times bigger than its body. It is highly improbable that anything approaching the complexity of a human brain will be mapped in the immediate future or even during our lifetime.
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