Scientists just used A.I. to map a fruit fly’s brain. Here’s why it’s a ‘turning point in neuroscience’
Published in Artificial Intelligence, Brain Architecture & Maps, Brain/Neurology, Scanners and Imaging.
Without A.I., the researchers would have taken roughly 2,000 collective years to finish the work—they also made almost 3 million edits to fix the A.I.’s mistakes.
All ~130,000 neurons in the flywire.ai connectome. Further details in Dorkenwald et al and Schlegel et al bioRxiv preprints.
Imagine you need to find a room in an expansive, labyrinthine house. Each hallway branches into several smaller hallways, and at the end of each segmenting branch is a room. Worse yet, imagine you urgently need to fix a problem in the house’s architecture, and have to search through countless halls and rooms to first find the problem. What you’d need most is a map.
A brain is like the house in question. To be exact, a human brain has 86 billion branching neurons and is by far the most complex organ in the body. The seat of intelligence and all complex thought, the brain dictates a huge part of an organism’s health, relationships with its species, and individuality. And there hasn’t ever been a map of the neural pathways inside a brain for any adult animal until now—and it was made possible by A.I.
An interdisciplinary team of neuroscientists and computer scientists from schools including Cambridge and Princeton recently made a breakthrough in brain-mapping using A.I., and they told Fortune it could be the first step in a revolution in neuroscience and medicine. The team created a connectome, or a map of all neural pathways, of a fruit fly’s brain, the first whole-brain connectome created for any adult animal.
“It gives a kind of ground truth about what is actually connected in the brain,” Sven Dorkenwald, a computer science researcher at Princeton who worked on the project, told Fortune. “It is foundational for designing experiments, and it allows other scientists to to look at what their neuron of interest is connected to, and that allows them to be more efficient in how they want to experiment and test their hypothesis.”
In the past, if neuroscientists wanted to interrogate how a fruit fly made decisions and navigated the world, they wouldn’t know exactly what area of the brain to look at in their experiment, Dr. Alexander Bates, a neuroscientist at Harvard who worked on the project while at Cambridge, said.