Though people are born with a single set of genes, their mental make-up changes over time. In his quest to map the mouse brain connectome, Harvard's Jeff Lichtman and his colleagues are looking to the genome to "find how memories, personality traits, and skills are stored," reports The New York Times. The National Institutes of Health poured $40 million into the nascent field of connectomics — through its Human Connectome Project — in September, the Times adds, awarding grants to investigators at Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Minnesota, and the University of California, Los Angeles, in addition to Harvard. Lichtman says that the team aims to map the mouse brain first, as the human brain is still too daunting a task. "The world is not yet ready for the million-petabyte data set the human brain would be," Lichtman tells the Times. "But it will be."
At present, researchers in the Lichtman lab are preparing thin cross sections — of only 29.4 nm — for characterization by electron microscopy. Once the team has woven together the static pictures of mouse brain activity using computational approaches, they will have generated "a far more detailed look at the brain's inner workings than current techniques," says the Times. Still, the researchers are cautiously optimistic. Mapping the connectome "will either be a great success story or a massive cautionary tale," Harvard's Bobby Kasthuri tells the Times.