The first complete map of the insect brain

Scientists examine the brain under an electron microscope, making thousands of visual slices

Scientists have created the first complete map of an insect’s brain. They also mapped all the synapses that connect it. The team’s work was published in the prestigious journal Science. The resulting map is known as the connectome and is an absolute cornerstone of neuroscience.

“We now have a reference brain,” University of Cambridge neuroscientist and study co-author Marta Zlatich told Nature.

The mapped brain belongs to a fruit fly larva and contains exactly 3,016 neurons and 548,000 synapses. Previous projects either mapped the brains of organisms with much smaller brains or were incomplete.

For their achievement, the scientists used an innovative detailed – and took advantage of the fact that the studied brain is much more similar to the human brain than previous models.

“There are regions that correspond to decision-making, there are regions that correspond to learning, there are regions that correspond to navigation,” study co-author Joshua Vogelsheim, a biomedical engineer at Johns Hopkins University, told NPR.

Scientists examine the brain under an electron microscope, making thousands of visual slices. They are then processed using a specialized computer program.

“The brain is the physical object that makes us who we are,” Vogelstein said. “And to fully understand this object, he says, you need to know how it’s connected.”

And by tracing this neural connection, the researchers realized something unexpected. The left and right sides of the brain bear the same markings in insects.

While the fruit fly brain pales in comparison to the complexity of the human brain, which contains about 100 billion neurons and about 100 trillion synapses, it is certainly a remarkable step toward eventually mapping the human brain in its entirety. This is the “golden grail” for scientists.

Illustrative Photo by Pixabay:

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