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First complete model of a complex brain completed after 50 years – but still not human | Energy and science

For 50 years, researchers have been making increasingly complex models of brains, not just to show their structure, but to show their functioning. This is an essential line of research for understanding our behavior, reasoning, emotions, and reactions; as well as how different animal brains see the world (an important frontier for discussion of animal rights and human empathy for other species). The first effort was with worms, in the 1970s, and South African biologist Sydney Brenner won the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 2002. Since then, there have been efforts to map neuronal activity in the larger creatures. No one has built a model that serves as a reference for the human brain – yet.

A team of 20 scientists spread across Germany, the US and the UK presented the novelty to the world in an article in Sciences. After 14 years of work, they have assembled a complete model of the brain of a fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) larva. The young animal shows the ability to learn, makes choices and has two cerebral hemispheres that interact. Their nervous system operates on principles similar to those of humans.

“If we want to understand who we are and how we think, part of it is understanding the mechanism of thinking,” said Joshua Vogelstein, a biomedical engineer at Johns Hopkins University in the US and one of the authors of the work. “The key to this is understanding how neurons communicate with each other.”

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These brain models are called neural networks and their creation is the goal of a field of research called synapses. The neural network of the fruit fly larva shows the types of neurons, how they group together, the dynamics of environment perception through several senses at the same time, the paths and direction of nerve impulses and the interactions of the cerebral hemispheres, covering 548,000 synapses generated by 3016 neurons. Until now, science had only partial models of the brains of more complex creatures (flies, mice, humans) and complete models of three creatures much simpler than fruit flies, with a few hundred neurons and a completely different nervous system. (worm, worm, jacket).

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In addition to opening up possibilities for research in health and neuroscience, the authors see another way to apply neural networks: Some properties of the structure of the larval brain are found in artificial intelligence based on neural networks. The article states, “Future analysis of the similarities and differences between brains and artificial neural networks may aid understanding of the computational principles of the brain and possibly inspire new constructs for machine learning.”