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IPFS News Link • Science, Medicine and Technology

Unprecedented 3D wiring diagram of human brain looks like a tiny world

•, By Michael Irving

The effort produced some stunning images and marks a major step towards one of the biggest challenges in science.

It might not be hyperbolic to say that the human brain is the most complex thing in existence. Crammed into your skull is about 86 billion neurons connected to each other through 100 trillion synapses, and from this tangled web of bacon fat somehow arises the entirety of your being – all thoughts, emotions, hopes, embarrassing memories, favorite foods, the weird things you do when no-one is looking.

The ultimate irony is that the human brain is so utterly complex that it's nigh on impossible for it to truly comprehend itself, despite its processing power. But that's not stopping teams of scientists from trying to build a complete wiring diagram of the human brain, known as a "connectome."

Now, a team from Harvard and Google Research have made a major breakthrough, publishing the largest ever dataset of neural connections in a human brain. Or at least, a tiny piece of one – this sample measured just 1 mm3, or about the size of a single poppy seed. But contained in that space is an incredible 57,000 neurons, 230 mm of blood vessels, and 150 million synapses.

Mapping just this tiny chunk of brain generated an astonishing 1.4 Petabytes (PB), or 1.4 million GB, of data. Let's put that in perspective with some back-of-the-envelope math – a standard, double-layered Blu-Ray disc can hold 50 GB. That means mapping just this tiny chunk of brain generated data equivalent to 28,000 Blu-Ray discs. How can we visualize that pile? Well, each Blu-Ray case is 13 mm (0.5 in) thick, so if you stack them all up that's 364 m (1,194 ft) tall – or, higher than the Statue of Liberty standing atop the Eiffel Tower. All that just to map a poppy seed.