Researchers gamified neurological mapping to create a brain atlas

Researchers gamified neurological mapping to create a brain atlas
  • The game used to map neurons is called Eyewire.
  • Developed in 2012, the game requires gamers to trace the path of neurons from a small segment of a mouse brain.
  • What the gamers do, helps train an Artificial Intelligence software to learn how to trace neuron paths.
Humans have always craved for knowledge. Knowledge about everything that exists in themselves, the world and the universe. The craving never ends and the human mind always wants to discover and know more about how everything works.

And perhaps one of the greatest secrets in the world is the human brain itself. Science has tried to understand the complex systems that exist within the brains, though there’s a lot of work to be done.

Amongst the many efforts to understand the brain, are technologies to allow mind control. To establish such technology, one has to understand the billions of neurons and the link that exists between them. And researchers at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute (PNI) are trying to do that by harnessing the power of gaming. They have published some of the results in the journal Cell.

As we know very little about how a neuron functions, the researchers, in 2012, launched the Eyewire project that aims to make the neurological mapping of the brain more like a game than a tedious task.

The Game

The game in question starts with a tiny segment of the brain of a mouse. The data used for the game was scanned in 2009 from the retina of a mouse. Gamers trace the twists and turns in neurons’ path. This tracing happens as one tiny cube, roughly 4.5 microns across, at a time. The path traced after completion is then reviewed and checked by other gamers.

Once verified, the cube enters the Eyewire Museum, which is an interactive digital archive that anyone can access. The museum is like a “brain atlas”, according to Alexander Bae, who was amongst the first co-authors of the paper.

As of now, gamers have mapped more than 10 million cubes corresponding to 3000 neural cells. They discovered six new types of neurons in the process.

Amy Robin Sterling, executive director at Eyewire, told Futurism that it took “weeks to finish a single cell” in the early days. This, according to Sterling, has come down to “multiple neurons per day”, thanks to this project.

Currently, the Eyewire project just maps out a small segment of a mouse brain, but an Artificial Intelligence software has been integrated into the game that learns from each gamer to improve its own neuron tracing capabilities. When perfected, the AI could bring us even closer to mapping out all the neurological connections in a human brain i.e more than 100 trillion connections. This would then help humanity in reaching many of its future goals.