4 areas of brain research in 2012
2012 has been a year verbose in brain research. Some experiences have had great resonance, but most of them follow the slow course of the investigation with hard work and a few headlines. Here are some of the most outstanding published this year. They are grouped into four areas: genetics and evolution, Brain Computer Interface (BCI), Brain Research and Simulation.
Genetics and evolution
Genetics does not apply only to the study of the brain and intelligence, but many genetic discoveries has to do with the nervous system. Likewise, evolutionary studies with animals have a very significant impact on our understanding of the human brain.
The most important event was the publication genetic data ENCODE project . The sequencing of the human genome in 2001 taught us the sequence of all 3 billion letters (nitrogen bases) that make up our genome. We had the book but did not know it meant. ENCODE has been working to understand its meaning, ie what do these DNA sequences, which are important for the body.
A novel genetic engineering technique is optogenetics. Genetically manipulating some neurons, a gene introduced therein is energized upon receiving a light pulse. Applied to a transparent worm, we can control their behavior with light .
For what we are helpful to know how are our closest relatives, the great apes. We had already sequenced the genome of the chimpanzee and orangutan and this year 2012 is the turn them to gorilla and the bonobo . We share 97% of the genome of the gorilla and we know that we separated from the orangutan for 14 million years, the last 10 of gorillas and chimpanzees 6 million years ago. Bonobo, the most promiscuous ape, we know that its genome differs only 0.4% of the chimpanzee.
We also found a gene, miR-941 is unique in humans. None of our ape cousins have it and it is one that might explain our distinctive features. In fact it seems involved in language and decision making, two exceptional areas in humans.
This leads us to wonder if our closest cousins, this time as homo, the Neanderthals are the same species as humans. Much remains to be said about it. What we do know is that older men are responsible for most of the mutations of our species: a father’s older, more mutations in the offspring . And while we imagine, is it possible immortality? Well, today seems an absurdity, but a Russian billionaire has set the fortunes convince the world to get it.
Most basic research in Neuroscience are not very popular. Some of them, however, reach the general public, such as those detailed below.
From a global point of view, the most promising area is the connectome, the overall map of all the brain connections. A trip to the mouse brain can give us an idea of the brain. To see how to connect neurons need a very thorough job. A robot to explore the simultaneous behavior of several neurons can be helpful.
Neurons are created early in development. Then her unique destiny is to die: not regenerate. However several studies are trying to use other fabrics to create new neurons. This is the case of the stem cells of the umbilical cord is full. A team managed to create neurons from the umbilical cord . Although the translation improvements as the treatment of Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s is far, is a clear line of investigation.
A primal sense for humans is in sight. In addition, the retina is complex and is a little brain so that is a favorite area of research. Part of the connectome began with the retina, called the project Eyewire . It is complex because it goes step by step, neuron to neuron.
We separate ourselves from the evolutionary line of macaques 30 million years ago. However, our visual systems are very similar. Our face recognition area is similar and now they have discovered in the neurons responsible for a very important behavior: the eye contact . Without leaving the hearing, scientists have successfully transplanted photoreceptors healthy mice that lacked them, partially restoring vision. And not only that, but also partially regenerated optic nerve that connects the retina to the brain. And out of sight, researchers conducted a nervous bypass that partially restored the movement of the hand in a patient with spinal cord injury.
Time is critical in our lives. How does the brain synchronize hundreds of billions of neurons? We ignore it, but the conclusion is clear: a second in the brain is very long. And speaking of giant neurons , how long it takes to get information from the tail to the brain of a dinosaur?
BCI Brain Computer Interface
It is the most spectacular and the media jumping permanently. Bionic man, the man-machine connection, BCI technology.
Oscar Pistorius has been able to participate in the London Olympics despite having both legs amputated due two prostheses. But not a neuron computer connection.
Moving a wheelchair with his mind already had, but move very fast in this goal.
An implant monkey brain has been able to move a robotic hand with his mind. Better yet, two people with paralysis have been able to do the same.
If cochlear implants are a reality that has changed the world of the deaf, some of this seems to happen to the view. The artificial retinas are beginning their journey. the case of two blind s patients who received this prosthesis and partially recovered vision.
If we understand the brain must make a good model. The simulation of the brain is ideal for formulating and testing hypotheses. It is a stunning area in which neuroscience and supercomputing mixture. The year 2012 has been superb in brain simulation news.
IBM made history as simulation . 500 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses. A chilling figure. This used the second largest supercomputer, Sequoia, with a million and a half of processors. Although the challenge was more computational neuroscientist: the simulation does not perform human functions.
But a simple worm, Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), is a challenge to the scientific community. We know a lot about him and we can not simulate it despite having only 302 neurons. A team called OpenWorm intends to build the first artificial life form.
An interesting attempt has been to Spaun , a simulator that does perform brain functions. If he does something human. Simulates 2.5 million neurons in different brain areas and copy a picture, recognize numbers, sorts, counts them, and even complete a list (2,3,4 …).
Although it sounds complicated, thought is more nearly simulated the movement . Humanoid robots are friendly but very awkward because human motion is very complex. What date would you give to form a robotic soccer team? Experts talk about 2050.
2012 has been a great year for brain research. And it is clear that the best is yet to come.Tags: 2012, Brain, Neuroscience