Eyewire Crowdsources Retinal Connectome Mapping

Eyewire Crowdsources Retinal Connectome Mapping

When it comes to “big” data, you’re hard-pressed to find a subject bigger than the human brain. Electron microscope images of a cubic millimeter of brain matter are equivalent to a petabyte of data, according to Sebastian Seung, professor of computational neuroscience at MIT, who is on a mission to map the “connectomes” (pronounced like “genome”) inside our heads. Well, inside a head as connectomes are unique and may be the foundations for how our memories — and identities are formed.

As you could imagine, mapping connectomes is a pretty big undertaking, and Seung believes high-powered artificial intelligence isn’t enough. Which is why he’s turned the process into a game, launching Eyewire.org to ask people to join in his cranial crusade.

Watch our video interview with Seung where he explains what connectomes are, why they’re important, and how growing up with coloring books makes you a perfect candidate to help with this project.

The eye has its own connectome, the neuronal network of the retina that processes the incoming signals before it sends them off to the brain. Much of its structure is yet unknown, and now researchers are looking into the powers of crowdsourcing to process the vast amounts of data they have acquired on the structure. Eyewire, developed by neuroscientists at MIT, comprises a game that requires the players to connect the neurons in a small piece of the retina.

The data for analysis consists of a retinal volume with a size of 350×300×60 µm3 that was imaged using serial electron microscopy at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg, Germany. In total it amounts to about one terabyte of data. Although the analysis of these images to find connectomes can be automated to some extent, a lot of it is still manual work and this can be very time-consuming. By incorporating a game-like element and engaging a crowd from all over the world the researchers hope to speed up their analyses.

The game itself is pretty simple, requiring you to color the retinal images in order to map the connections. It does not require any specialized knowledge. Right now it is all about tracing and reconstructing the individual neurons. At a later stage another game will be introduced to map the synapses in order to complete the connectome. Eventually the researchers hope to make it powerful enough to be applied to the brain, in order to detect aberrant neuronal connections that might be responsible for disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

Source : http://gigaom.com/2012/04/27/wanted-big-community-to-unlock-big-data-in-big-brain/

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