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The Connectome Debate: Is Mapping the Mind of a Worm Worth It?

The connectome-related skepticism has been ramping up lately. So you mapped the complete neural network of a tiny worm (C. elegans, above) … so what? So you draw some pretty brain structures that don’t provide neuron by neuron detail … so what?

Ferris Jabr has a great write-up of the “so whats” and the “this is what” at SciAm. Want to get up to date on the connectome debate? Start here.

Because a lone connectome is a snapshot of pathways through which information might flow in an incredibly dynamic organ, it cannot reveal how neurons behave in real time, nor does it account for the many mysterious ways that neurons regulate one another’s behavior. Without such maps, however, scientists cannot thoroughly understand how the brain processes information at the level of the circuit. In combination with other tools, the C. elegans connectome has in fact taught scientists a lot about the worm’s behavior; partial connectomes that researchers have established in the crustacean nervous system have been similarly helpful. Scientists are also learning how to make connectomes faster than before and to enhance the information they provide. Many researchers in the field summarize their philosophy like this: “A connectome is necessary, but not sufficient.”

So it’s taught us a bit about the workings of the worm, but maybe not everything. Will it translate to elucidating the workings of the human brain? Time will tell. Good read.

(via Scientific American)

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