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Mapping the Brain's 'Symphony'

NIH Director Francis Collins takes to his new blog to discuss the Human Connectome Project, an NIH-funded effort to map all the neural connections in the human brain.

"Given that a typical human brain contains 100 billion neurons, each with about 10,000 connections, this sounds like an impossible task," Collins notes, but he adds that it's already been done on a much smaller scale for the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, which has a nervous system comprising around 300 neurons and 7,000 connections.

Collins likens the connectome to a "symphony." While previous studies of the brain might have been able to analyze an isolated region — akin to, say, the string section — recent advances in computer science, math, imaging, and data visualization can now allow researchers to study the human brain as an entire organ — the equivalent of listening to an entire orchestra.

The Scan

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