Detailed map of human Brain

The red and green brain slice (left) illustrates activity levels for a single gene. The multicolor slice (right) is a reference atlas, with different colors corresponding to different anatomical zones. Image: Miller et al., NaturePrepare to enter the era of Big Neuroscience. For the past decade or so, billions worth of research has provided some of the most tantalizing clues about how the human brain works, and consequently we, as human beings, reason. There are millions of people in the world suffering from dreaded neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s or Huntington’s, so understanding how all the intricate genetic and biological mechanics fit together to birth the most complex organism in the known Universe – the human brain – is of paramount importance to us, as a species and as sentient beings!

Despite huge efforts, we’re still just making baby steps. Speaking of which, researchers at the Allen Institute report they’ve released the most detailed map ever made of the fetal human brain. The scientists are still dissecting the huge amount of data gathered so far, but already the map reveals important clues that shed light on how the infant human brain forms or what the biological origins of afflictions like autism may be.

The prenatal brain

The human brain is among the most complex structures in the entire universe, containing roughly 100 billion neurons — as many stars as are in the Milky Way. Before the brain can foster a beautiful human mind, however, the neurons first form in the fetus. Halfway through gestation, the human brain is no larger than the palm of your hand. It is around this time that the cortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for cognition, begins to form.

Neuroscientists at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle first sliced four fetal brains obtained through a tissue bank, each into 3, 000 ultra-thin sections. Most of these sections were dyed and implanted with genetic markups to form the atlas, while others were sampled directly using a laser to gather genetic information. In all, the activity of some 20, 000 genes was analyzed.

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Q&A

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What is the reason for research into human brain mapping?

Research into human brain mapping is strongly endorsed by President Obama. The human brain is divided into areas referred to as 'topographic maps'. Additional research into human brain mapping will give us information about how we think and process information, memorize and reason.

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How much of the human brain been mapped?

In the past hundred years the brain has been thoroughly mapped out. It is a common myth that humans use only 10% of their brain (which isn't true). At one point it was noted that about 10% of the human brain had been mapped fashion, and perhaps this statement was misinterpreted to mean that the other 90% had no mundane function.

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