Scientists create the most complex map yet of the ‘wiring’ of an insect’s brain | Engadget

Researchers understand the structure of brains and have mapped them in some detail, but they don’t yet know exactly how they process data; for that, a detailed “circuit map” of the brain is needed.

Now, scientists have created such a map for the most advanced creature yet: a fruit fly larva. Called a connectome, it diagrams the insect’s 3016 neurons and 548,000 synapses, neuroscience news has reported. The map will help researchers study and better understand how insect and animal brains control behavior, learning, bodily functions, and more. The work may even inspire improved AI networks.

“Up to this point, we have not seen the structure of any brain except the C. elegans roundworm, the tadpole of a low chordate and the larva of a marine annelid, all of which have several hundred neurons,” said the professor. Marta Zlatic from the MRC Molecular Biology Laboratory. “This means that neuroscience has been operating mostly without circuit maps. Without knowing the structure of a brain, we are guessing at the way computations are implemented. But now, we can start to gain a mechanistic understanding of how the brain works.” .

To build the map, the team scanned thousands of slices of the larva’s brain under an electron microscope and then integrated them into a detailed map, noting all the neural connections. From there, they used computational tools to identify potential information flow pathways and types of “circuitry motifs” in the insect’s brain. They even noted that some structural features closely resembled state-of-the-art deep learning architecture.

Scientists have produced detailed maps of a fruit fly’s brain, which is much more complex than a fruit fly larva. However, these maps do not include all the detailed connections required to have a true circuit map of their brains.

As a next step, the team will investigate the structures used for behavioral functions such as learning and decision-making, and examine connectome activity while the insect performs specific activities. And while a fruit fly larva is a simple insect, the researchers hope to see similar patterns in other animals. “In the same way that genes are conserved throughout the animal kingdom, I believe that the basic circuitry motifs that implement these fundamental behaviors will also be conserved,” Zlatic said.



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James D. Brown
James D. Brown
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