According to an article on the front page of this morning’s New York Times, the Obama Administration is planning to seek three billion dollars from Congress to map the human brain’s activity. What will Obama’s proposed investment in neuroscience look like? Few details have been announced.
As Yuste explained to me, the key goal of the project is not to map what neurons are connected to which other neurons (yielding a static “connectome”), but to visualize the action of all the individual neurons in a given organism simultaneously, as organisms behave, akin to the difference between a snapshot and a high-resolution video.This is similar in concept to the currently-used technique of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), but with vastly higher resolution. Each “voxel” (three-dimensional pixel) in a typical fMRI image contains tens of thousands of neurons. Obama’s initiative would develop techniques for gathering dynamic, moving images in which each voxel corresponds to a single neuron, an enormous leap in resolution that is likely to lead to a far more precise understanding of the brain. If the commonly-used fMRI technique peers at the earth from ten-thousand feet, the BAMproject aims to finally land boots on the ground and watch the action from close up.