However, by accumulating data on different cell types and the genes that encode for the expression of particular proteins and ion channels, Markram was able to model the electrical prosperities of the synapses and a form a picture of how they communicated and formed links with synapses in other parts of the column. Using his Blue Gene computer, he then ran statistical simulations to predict structures in parts of the column for which there was no experimental data. The final stage was to compare his model to the brains of real rats in his wet lab.
To date, Markram's team have simulated 100 interconnected columns and every week, Blue Gene "runs" a new model of the cortical column, incorporating the latest data from experiments, as well as the data on ion channels. This ion channel data is automatically uploaded to channelpedia.net - a user-editable website that collates similar data from papers published across PubMed. The site is a model for the open-source team approach to sharing data that Markram would like to see become standard across neuroscience.
Markram is now busily recruiting PhDs with the aim of having his neuroinformatics and brain simulation platforms up and running within 30 months. In addition, he says he will work closely with researchers in the US, including those at the
"I'm very happy Obama launched the human brain initiative," he says. "We will use any data coming out of the US and run it on our model." Indeed, Markram believes data from other brain projects will go a long way to validating his own approach.
Whatever you think about Markram's vision, one thing is certain: simulating a human brain will require epic computing power, which is why one of the key sub-goals of the project is to stimulate research into an alternative approach known as neuromorphic computing.
Conventional computers are very good at complex calculations involving the parsing of large amounts of data but are very poor at performing several small tasks at once. This is because conventional computers rely on a central clock to manage data. By contrast, asynchronous signalling, the principle behind neuromorphic computing, does not use a central clock. Instead, the computer's processors are designed to spit out lots of tiny bundles of information as and when it suits them, much as a neuron spikes in response to a certain threshold of electrical activity.
One such project is SpiNNaker, short for spiking neural architecture. The idea of a team at the University of
Most Popular Stories
- Updates on Everglades' Stranded Pilot Whales
- NSA Tracks 5 Billion Cellphone Records a Day
- Hezbollah Chief's Assassination Claimed by Sunni Group
- Stolen Cobalt-60 Recovered in Mexico
- Wind Power and Wildlife Can Coexist
- Ford Mustang Still Packs Power
- Allstate Seeks to Invest in Minority Firms
- Sarmiento to Handle Greeley Latin Ops
- First-time Jobless Claims Drop Below 300,000
- Roybal-Allard Tours Gordon Brush Plant