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Billion-Dollar Brain Map

The New York Times reports that the Obama Administration is set to announce a large-scale effort to map the activity of the human brain, promising to do for brain research what the Human Genome Project did for genetics.

The decade-long project, likely to cost billions of dollars, "is expected to be part of the president's budget proposal next month," the Times reports.

While the White House declined to comment about the initiative, four scientists who were involved in planning the project spoke to the paper about it, including Harvard's George Church, who said the concept emerged in a similar fashion to the Human Genome Project.

“The genome project arguably began in 1984, where there were a dozen of us who were kind of independently moving in that direction but didn’t really realize there were other people who were as weird as we were,” he said.

He noted that the Brain Activity Map could provide a much-needed financial boost for neuroscience. “The Human Genome Project was on the order of about $300 million a year for a decade,” he said. “If you look at the total spending in neuroscience and nanoscience that might be relative to this today, we are already spending more than that. We probably won’t spend less money, but we will probably get a lot more bang for the buck.”

Some are a bit more cautious about comparisons with the Human Genome Project, however. Ralph Greenspan, the associate director of the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind at the University of California, San Diego, noted that the Brain Activity Map is addressing a "much more intricate question” than the genome project.

Greenspan, who is involved in planning the Brain Activity Map, said that while it was "very easy" to define the goal of the genome project, "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?”

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