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Computer Model Simulates Mammalian Brain


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The Blue Brain project is focused on reverse-engineering mammal brains from laboratory data and to develop a computer model down to the level of the molecules that make a brain. The project has successfully created a detailed simulation of a small region of a brain, developed molecule by molecule, based on the results of an experiment performed on real brains. The project's "Blue Brain" has been put in a virtual body, providing the first indications of the molecular and neural basis of thought and memory.

The researchers' success in modeling the neocortical column, a portion of the mammalian brain that is responsible for higher brain functions and thoughts, completes the project's first phase. "The thing about the neocortical column is that you can think of it as an isolated processor. It is very much the same from mouse to man — it gets a bit larger [and] a bit wider in humans, but the circuit diagram is very similar," says Blue Brain project leader Henry Markram. He says the simulated neocortical column is being integrated into a virtual reality agent, a simulated animal in a simulated environment, so researchers can observe the detailed activities in the column as the virtual animal explores its surroundings. "It starts to learn things and starts to remember things," Markram says. "We can actually see when it retrieves a memory, and where they retrieved it from because we can trace back every activity of every molecule, every cell, every connection, and see how the memory was formed."

The next phase of the project will use a more advanced version of the IBM Blue Gene supercomputer to add all of the molecules and biochemical pathways. Markram presented his research at the recent European Future Technologies Conference in Prague.

From BBC News
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