Google and Harvard have managed to map part of our brain in 3D

What could be hiding in a cubic millimeter of your brain? A funny question that has just been answered by a team of researchers from the American University of Harvard and scientists from Google. The project was made possible thanks to the operation on the hippocampus, a key part of the brain for memory and spatial navigation, of an epileptic patient which required the sample being studied to be removed.

The aim of the study, published in Science magazine, was to better understand how the brain works by mapping it as precisely as possible. To do this, the researchers used an electron microscope equipped with high-throughput imaging which makes it possible to study cells up close. All data were then analyzed using intensive calculation tools.



Nearly 1.4 million gigabytes of data

The result is breathtaking. Smaller than a marble, the brain sample contained nearly 23 centimeters of blood vessels, 57,000 neurons and up to 150 million synapses, the areas between two neurons that allow information to flow. In total, Google and Harvard scientists amassed the equivalent of 1.4 million gigabytes of data to gather all the information collected. This shows the richness and complexity of this organ, still far from being completely understood by scientists.

The result of their work, a three-dimensional map of the brain sample studied shows the tangle of connections between tens of thousands of neurons. This work allowed researchers to observe the distribution of the latter according to their type and several cases of rarely observed connections between them. The fact remains that if the study of this small sample is an undeniable advance, there is still a long way to go to map the 1500 cubic centimeters of our brain.

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