As reported in today’s Science Times of The New York Times, a research group in Taiwan led by Dr. Ann-Shyn Chiang has accomplished something that was unimaginable when I was a graduate student in the 1980’s: they have created the first atlas of the brain of a fruit fly at the resolution of a single neuron! Using cloning techniques and a protein that appears green under certain conditions, they have created three dimensional images of neurons one at a time from a large collection of fruit fly brains and merged the images into a single “atlas”.
Some quick facts:
The fruit fly has about 100,000 neurons; about 16,000 were imaged in this study.
Humans have about 100 billion neurons with about 1,000 synapses, so a fruit fly brain has about 0.0001% the amount of neurons as that of a human brain.
According to Dr. Chiang, the “human brain is likely to consist of similar basic operation units”.
Why this study is so important:
“With a full wiring diagram of the fly brain’s neurons and all their synaptic connections, researchers could test their ideas about how information flowed in the brain, and even compute the output that should follow a given input.”
In other words, if you understand the brain’s wiring you can not only map such an important command center, but you can possibly repair faulty connections – imagine the implications in diseases ranging from Alzheimer’s to depression to bipolar disorder.
You can read the original publication here.