Reconstructed rat brain portion marks simulation milestone

The researchers simulated electrical activity in a ‘virtual brain slice’ and compared it with biological observations. BBP/EPFL 2015

The Blue Brain Project, led by Henry Markram at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), has completed the first draft of a digital reconstruction of a small portion of the rat brain. The achievement demonstrates the feasibility of simulating brain structure and function on supercomputers.

This content was published on October 9, 2015 minutes and agencies

The Blue Brain Project is the Swiss arm of the international Human Brain Project – a decade-long research endeavour funded by the European Union. The results, which have been publishedExternal link in the journal Cell, represent collaboration between 82 scientists from institutions around the world over 20 years.

The digital reconstruction represents about a quarter of a cubic millimetre of rat brain tissue: 30,000 neurons and 40 million synapses. In addition to matching modelled electrical activity patterns to biological observations, the simulation provided some new insights into brain function at the molecular level.

“We can’t and don’t have to measure everything,” Markram said in a statement. “The brain is a well-ordered structure, so once you begin to understand the order at the microscopic level, you can start to predict much of the missing data.”

He added that while the paper represents a proof-of-concept for the digital reconstruction and simulation of brain tissue, simulation of an entire brain is still a long way off.

“The reconstruction is a first draft; it is not complete, and it is not yet a perfect digital replica of the biological tissue,” he said.  

The reconstruction and accompanying data have been published in a public online portalExternal link, to which researchers from around the world can have access and make contributions of their own.

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