Scientists Recreate Part of Rat's Brain on Computer

Project enables brain phenomena to be studied in a digital environment, rather than using biological tissue, says Hebrew University's Prof. Idan Segev, a member of the team.

Illustration of a brain
A representation of a brain.

An Israeli scientist is part of an international team that that has built a reconstruction of a section of a rat brain in a computer, according to an announcement on Thursday.

The goal of the Blue Brain Project, which launched in 2005 and is led by neurobiologist Henry Markram of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, is to build a biologically-detailed computer simulation of the brain. Such a simulation would provide deep insights into the way the brain works, says Markram.

One of the 82 scientists from all over the world involved in the project is Professor Idan Segev of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The research, which was published in the lucrative scientific journal Cell, is the culmination of 20 years of biological experiments, and 10 years of calculations and algorithm development, through which the program required to digitally reconstruct the tissue was written.

What the team has achieved to date is the first draft of a functioning map of 30,000 brain cells.

Other neuroscientists have argued that it will reveal no more about the brain’s workings than do simpler, more abstract simulations of neural circuitry—while sucking up a great deal of computing power and resources.

"In the Blue Brain Project, we’re creating a detailed digital reconstruction of a neural network in the brain, and by using computer simulations, we’re investigating and furthering our understanding of the neural network’s behavior," Prof. Segev told the Ynet website.

"This allows us to examine brain phenomena in a digital environment. In the past, such experiments were only possible using biological tissue.

"The insights we gather from these experiments will help us understand different states in the healthy and unhealthy brain, and in the future we could also use the digital model to develop new ways of treating brain illnesses.

"All of the data we’ve collected and all of the models we’ve built are available to the scientific community worldwide, and will be preserved for future generations using a new platform we’ve built."