How Science Failed to Unlock The Mysteries of the Human Brain

Human Brain
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Human Brain: In September 2011, a group of neuroscientists and nanoscientists gathered at a picturesque estate in the English countryside for a symposium aimed at bringing their two fields closer together.

At the meeting, neurobiologist Rafael Yuste of Columbia University and Harvard geneticist George Church put forward a very modest proposal: to map the activity of the entire human brain at the level of individual neurons and detail how these cells form circuits. That knowledge could be used to treat brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s, autism, schizophrenia, depression and traumatic brain injury. And it will help answer one of science’s great questions: How does the brain bring about consciousness?

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Yuste, Church and their colleagues prepared a proposal that will be published later in the journal Neuron. His ambition was extreme: “A large-scale, international public effort, the Brain Activity Map Project, aimed to reconstruct a complete record of neural activity across entire neural circuits.” Like the Human Genome Project a decade earlier, he wrote, the brain project would give rise to “entirely new industries and commercial enterprises”.

Achieving that goal will require new technologies, and that’s where nanoscientists come in. At the time, researchers could record activity from only a few hundred neurons at a time — but with about 86 billion neurons in the human brain, it was akin to watching TV one pixel at a time, Youste recalled in 2017. ” The researchers proposed tools to measure “each spike from each neuron” in an attempt to understand how complex thoughts arise from the firing of these neurons.

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