Google Researchers Map A Mouse’s Brain to Better Understand Humans

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Key Takeaways

  • Scientists have already concluded a breakthrough study on a human brain fragment.
  • Google’s Connectomics team is using a mouse organ due to its likeness to a human equivalent.
  • The aim is to better understand how the mind works to make us function and how diseases take hold.

Google researchers have started developing a brain map for a mouse as a way of better understanding how the human mind works. 

Led by Research Scientist Viren Jain, Google’s Connectomics team is working on the organ of the small mammal because it is like a miniature version of the human brain and it is a realistic project, in time and resources. 

Earlier this year, scientists leveraged AI to make inroads with large amounts of data when they produced the “largest, most detailed map of the human brain yet”. It depicted just one cubic millimeter of brain tissue (around half the size of a grain of rice) but the project required 1.4 petabytes of data to construct the big picture. 

Although a mouse brain is around 1,000 times smaller than the human equivalent, it was still a formidable task to map the organ but the reason for it was because they are so familiar in appearance. The Google team estimated it would take “billions of dollars and hundreds of years” to map the entire human connectome, the maze of neural connections. 

Scientist Believes the Brain Will be Unlocked

The researchers want to uncover what makes the mind tick: How are memories stored and recalled? How do we remember faces? Why do we need to sleep so much each night? What happens when neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s take over? 

Viren said the reason we don’t yet have a true understanding of these questions is that scientists “don’t yet have the data” needed to study the brain. The more mapping that takes place (connectomes), the more scientists can decode what makes the brain work, and when it doesn’t. 

Google’s Connectomics team has been working for 10 years to develop new technologies in analyzing data and sharing outcomes to make progress in understanding the brain. As part of the current project to map the mouse’s hippocampus (the region of the brain responsible for reading memories, and attention), they are collaborating with partners at Harvard, Princeton, and other institutions to break new ground to unlock the brain.  

Viren believes one day we will have a thorough understanding of how memories are formed and how diseases take hold, but first have to “create this loop of technology” that would have been impossible two decades earlier.