Google Assists in Publishing the Largest High-Res Image of Brain Connectivity

It's the brain of a fruit fly, but it's impressive nonetheless.
Fabienne Lang

Scientists from Google and the Janelia Research Campus have published the world's largest high-resolution map of brain connectivity in any animal. This represents a significant milestone in brain mapping. 

The map offers a 3D model of 25,000 fruit fly neurons over a large range of cells and over multiple brain regions. 


Slicing and dicing the brain

The team managed the feat by slicing sections of the fruit fly's brain into tiny 20-micron thick slices — approximately a third of the width of a human hair. The slices were then imaged by streams of electrons from an electron microscope, and then painstakingly stitched back together.

For a little context, fruit flies' brains are roughly the size of a poppy seed. This was minute and detailed work. 

The result, however, is an impressive and sophisticated map with so few disruptions that it's useful to trace neurons through the brain. 

Even after Google's incredible algorithms, the Janelia team still had to confirm the software's work. It took the team two years and hundreds of thousands of hours to "proofread" the 3D map, double-checking every route of each 20 million chemical synapses by using 3D virtual reality headsets and custom 3D software. 

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The data is available for anyone to see and download, and the team has put up their study online

The brain map itself won't accomplish a whole lot. That said, it could prove extremely useful for scientists looking to understand brain functionality at large. 

Furthermore, this map comprises "only" a quarter of the fruit fly's 100,000 neurons. Larger animal species' brains are much more complex, with us humans having 86 billion neurons in our own brains. 

So, acknowledging this is an important moment goes without saying, however, it is but a stepping stone towards further research of a complex organ. 

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