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Researchers simulate part of a rat brain

It's impressive news, but it's a long way from mapping the 85 billion neurons that make up the human brain.

By Brooks Hays

LAUSANNE, France, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- Researchers working on the Blue Brain Project have successfully simulated a portion of a rat's brain.

The Blue Brain Project is part of the larger Human Brain Project, with the ultimate goal of building a functional computer model of the human brain.

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Researchers say the newly designed slice of digital rat brain isn't proof that the goals of the Human Brain Project are feasible, but it's a step in the right direction.

The new computerized neocortex comprises 30,000 neurons, woven together by nearly 40 million synapses. But researchers didn't upload every bit of information about every single neuron. Instead, researchers built an algorithm to mine previous research on rat brains to identify rules, parameters, limits and definitions that govern how neurons and synapses in the neocortex interact and behave.

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By integrating data collected via real world neurological experiments and structural parameters established by the algorithm, researchers were able to approximate a map of the neocortex.

When the scientists tested the simulation, they got results in line with real-world rat brain experiments. Their results were published this week in the journal Cell.

It's impressive news, but it's a long way from mapping the 85 billion neurons that make up the human brain. Still, it's a small building block.

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"The digitization of the tissue allows the data to be preserved and reused for future generations," Idan Segev, a senior author, said in a press release.

"The reconstruction is a first draft, it is not complete and it is not yet a perfect digital replica of the biological tissue," added scientist Henry Markram, founder of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.

Skeptics, who suggest the Human Brain Project is unrealistic, remain. The first draft will require revisions. But researchers on the project are excited about the work ahead.

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"The job of reconstructing and simulating the brain is a large-scale collaborative one, and the work has only just begun," said senior author Sean Hill. "The Human Brain Project represents the kind of collaboration that is required."

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