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Virtual Rat Brain Created By Scientists

Virtual Rat Brain

In a breakthrough for the controversial European neuroscience project which aims to digitize the human brain, the Blue Brain Project has created the first digital simulation of a rat brain.

The supercomputer powered rat brain, which is actually a chunk or segment of a rat’s brain, models some 31,000 virtual brain cells connected by a network of approximately 37 million synapses, Scientific American reports.

For the Blue Brain Project, which is led by neurobiologist Henry Markram of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), the accomplishment brings them one step closer to achieving their goal of a human brain simulating supercomputer. To be more precision, the project aims to create a biologically detailed computer simulation of the human brain — a goal which the group hopes to achieve through the application of experimental data which defines the three-dimensional shape, electrical properties, ion channels and other proteins generally produced by various types of cells.

According to Markram, simulating the human brain would provide vast insight into the inner-workings of the human brain.

In contrast, Scientific American reports that other neuroscientists have argued against the notion, claiming that the creation of a virtual brain will offer no more information and understanding than simpler simulations of neural circuitry and that it will be, in essence, nothing more than a waste of computing resources.

Researchers behind the virtual rat brain published a research paper in the journal Cell back on October 8 in which they describe the digital brain as a model of the rat’s primary somatosensory cortex — a region responsible for the reception of sensory information derived from the whiskers and other parts of the body.

It’s worth noting that the simulation does not cover every aspect of the cortex and that it is by no means a complete digitization of the rat brain. But all the same, Markram claims that it reproduces emergent properties of cortical circuitry which could allow researchers to conduct otherwise difficult to conduct experiments.

The simulation comes as the result of a collaborative effort in which over 80 researchers from across 12 countries contributed their expertise. The group has made the efforts of their research, the computer model itself, freely available to the public at large.

In other news, researchers unrelated to the virtual reconstruction of a rat’s brain have produced a geomagnetic brain device which allows blind rats to navigate “like they can see.”

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