A simplified computer model of a mouse brain is created by engineers. Matthew Stock reports.
Scientists working towards mapping and modelling the human brain, have taken the first step by implanting a simplified mouse brain inside its virtual body. This virtual mouse, they say, could one day replace live mice in lab testing - letting them performing mock experiments with the same degree of accuracy. When certain stimuli are applied to the virtual mouse's whiskers and skin, for example, the corresponding parts of its brain are activated. Neurorobotics scientist Marc-Oliver Gewaltig (pron. Gev-AL-Tig) is from the Human Brain Project (HBP) in Switzerland. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MARC-OLIVER GEWALTIG, HUMAN BRAIN PROJECT NEUROROBOTICS SCIENTIST, SAYING: "That allows us at least in a simplified way to have muscles and senses distributed on the body, like touch is distributed across the entire body surface. And simple models of a peripheral nervous system that would allow us to control muscles, and then interface between the brain and these other parts, so that we get basically the whole animal reconstructed." Scientists around the world mapped the position of the mouse brain's 75 million neurons and the connections between different regions. The virtual brain currently consists of just 200,000 neurons - though this will increase along with computing power. Gewaltig says applying the same meticulous methods to the human brain, could lead to computer processors that learn, just as the brain does. In effect, artificial intelligence. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MARC-OLIVER GEWALTIG, HUMAN BRAIN PROJECT NEUROROBOTICS SCIENTIST, SAYING: "If you look at the neurobotics platform, if you want to control robots in a similar way as organisms control their bodies; that's also a form of artificial intelligence, and this is probably where we'll first produce visible outcomes and results." The EU-funded Human Brain Project is scheduled to run until 2023. Among its ambitions, they hope to map diseases of the brain to help diagnose people objectively and develop new, truly personalised therapies.