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Obama Admin. Reportedly Wants to Map the Entire Human Brain


"...what are brainwide activity patterns and ultimately how do they make things happen?”

(Image: Shutterstock.com)

A multi-billion dollar estimated project by the Obama administration will soon be seeking to map the entire human brain, according to sources speaking with the New York Times.

The project, which has not been formally unveiled yet, would be the like human genome project of the brain, the Times said.

Those involved with the initial planning of the Brain Activity Mapping project told the Times findings from such an endeavor could help with brain-related diseases as well as artificial intelligence.

Here's more from the Times on how scientists might go about such a project:

Composed of roughly 100 billion neurons that each electrically “spike” in response to outside stimuli, as well as in vast ensembles based on conscious and unconscious activity, the human brain is so complex that scientists have not yet found a way to record the activity of more than a small number of neurons at once, and in most cases that is done invasively with physical probes.

But a group of nanotechnologists and neuroscientists say they believe that technologies are at hand to make it possible to observe and gain a more complete understanding of the brain, and to do it less intrusively.

In June in the journal Neuron, six leading scientists proposed pursuing a number of new approaches for mapping the brain.

One possibility is to build a complete model map of brain activity by creating fleets of molecule-size machines to noninvasively act as sensors to measure and store brain activity at the cellular level. The proposal envisions using synthetic DNA as a storage mechanism for brain activity.

Obama recently hinted at such research being conducted in his 2013 State of the Union address (emphasis added):

Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer's. We're developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs, devising new materials to make batteries 10 times more powerful. Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the space race. We need to make those investments.

The plan, which the Times said could be unveiled as soon as March, would include not only federal agencies but private  entities and scientific operations as well. The Times noted that the amount of money that could be put toward the project is unknown but sources said they hope it could receive up to $3 billion for 10 years of work from Congress.

Although similar in concept to the human genome project -- which mapped the entire genetic code of humans with $3.8 billion and returned $800 billion according to the Times -- the Brain Activity Project would be a bit more difficult.

“It’s different in that the nature of the question is a much more intricate question,” Dr.Ralph Greenspan with the  Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind at the University of California-San Diego, told the Times. “It was very easy to define what the genome project’s goal was. In this case, we have a more difficult and fascinating question of what are brainwide activity patterns and ultimately how do they make things happen?”

Read more details about the potential for the project that would be run through the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the New York Times' full article here.

Featured image via Shutterstock.com.

(H/T: SlashGear)

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