The image on the right is a supercomputer simulation of the microcircuitry found within a column from the neocortex of the rat brain.
The simulation is a tour de force of computational neuroscience: a single column is a highly complex structure, containing approximately 10,000 neurons and 30 million synapses, and the image is based on 15 years’ worth of research into the morphology of many different cell types in the rat cortex, and the unique repertoire of receptors and ion channels expressed by each, as well as their connectivity and electrophysiological properties.
Nevertheless, this is just the first stage of the ambitious Blue Brain Project, a collaboration between researchers at IBM and the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland. The behaviour of the model has been compared to that of real brain tissue, and the simulation is believed to be accurate enough so that it can be scaled up to simulate the entire human brain. Project leader Henry Markram, who is director of the Brain Mind Institute at the EPFL, believes that this reverse-engineering of the human brain can be achieved within the next 10 years.