Ten years of neuroscience at Google yields maps of human brain

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2024-05-11 02:30:03

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Marking ten years of connectomics research at Google, we are releasing a publication in Science about a reconstruction at the synaptic level of a small piece of the human brain. We discuss the reconstruction process and dataset, and we present several new neuron structures discovered in the data.

The human brain uses no more power than a dim incandescent light bulb, yet it can accomplish feats still not possible with the largest artificial computing systems. To understand how requires a level of understanding more profound than knowing what part of the brain is responsible for what function. The field of connectomics aims to achieve this by precisely mapping how each cell is connected to others. Building detailed maps of how brains from many types of organisms are wired is transforming our understanding of how brains work. This could help researchers understand neurological disorders and also answer fundamental questions, such as how memories form.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the formation of Google Research’s Connectomics research team. We have made connectomes possible through the development of machine learning (ML) algorithms and software tools that process and visualize data at unprecedented scale. Marking this anniversary, today we publish in Science, “A petavoxel fragment of human cerebral cortex reconstructed at nanoscale resolution” in collaboration with Jeff Lichtman of Harvard University and others. Released previously as a preprint, this connectome describes a piece of human brain tissue the size of half a grain of rice that nonetheless requires 1.4 petabytes (1.4 million gigabytes) to encode — including about 16,000 neurons, 32,000 glia, 8,000 blood vessel cells (for a total of ~57,000 cells) and 150 million synapses. This project revealed never-before-seen structures within the human brain that may change our understanding of how our brains work.

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