Skip to main content

Is BlueBrain worth the Billion Dollars? Ask the Zebrafish

Remember the Zebrafish? That likeable little thing is termed the 'workhorse' model organism in developmental biology (and nobody has a problem with this metaphor). Be it as it is - Zebrafish are the pet model organism for brain studies for essentially two reasons: they are easy to breed - and the larvae are transparent, allowing for easy access to neuronal imaging. Recently Florian Engert and coworkers put paralysed zebrafish larvae in an experimental setup that is highly reminiscent of The Matrix, letting the fishlet experience a virtual world of environment-simulations and study the reactions to the stimuli by optically monitoring brain-functions via a fluorescent reaction to calcium-flow (which, you guessed it, is related to cell-activity)(see Nature 493, p467). The calcium-indicator is actually expressed by a transgenic line of fish (or other even less cuddly animals like fruit-flies, clamped under a microscope with their legs moving freely on a little ball). As reported in the top-tier journal Nature, the versatility and recent innovation in those techniques, open the floodgates to top-tier journals such as Nature, which would historically rather favour experiments on higher organisms. The beauty of the experiments lies not only in the widely accepted belief that it is morally more acceptable to tape a fruit-fly to a microscope than to insert electrodes into the brain of a mammal but also in the relative simplicity of the neuronal network. There is hope to get "a wiring diagram of the whole brain that can relate structure to function" - as Florian Engert says. This would be a great base for understanding a complete network consisting of about 300.000 neurons. How modest and realistic this rollerblading, motorcycling and fiery lecturer is - compared to the billion-dollar-supported big-mouthing Henry Markram who claims to be able to model the whole human brain (about 100 billion neurons) in a supercomputer, if only the Dollar-influx is right.
("See you tomorrow", says the dayfly. Liar!)

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Academics should be blogging? No.

"blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now" The London School of Economics and Political Science states in one of their, yes, Blogs . It is wrong. The arguments just seem so right: "faster communication of scientific results", "rapid interaction with colleagues" "responsibility to give back results to the public". All nice, all cuddly and warm, all good. But wrong. It might be true for scientoid babble. But this is not how science works.  Scientists usually follow scientific methods to obtain results. They devise, for example, experiments to measure a quantity while keeping the boundary-conditions in a defined range. They do discuss their aims, problems, techniques, preliminary results with colleagues - they talk about deviations and errors, successes and failures. But they don't do that wikipedia-style by asking anybody for an opinion . Scientific discussion needs a set

How Does Knowledge Get Into Society? A fly-by-artist-in-residence and a Dialogue

The artist Sadie Weis was shadowing some of the scientists at Paul-Drude-Institut (a research-institute for nanomaterials) for eight weeks, observing the way they work, how scientists communicate with eachother, how they explain stuff to an outsider. The result of this dialogue is a light-installation and - maybe more important for the scientists involved - a reflection of the scientists  and of the artist on the languages they use.  T his project of an artist in a fly-by-residency will be wrapped up on Saturday, November 10th with a p resentation by the artist Sadie Weis and a panel discussion on differences and similarities in the way artists and scientists communicate with the outside world                  November 10, 2018 from 14-18                 Paul-Drude-Institut f√ľr Festk√∂rperelektronik                  Hausvogteiplatz 5–7, Berlin-Mitte                Germany For  the Dialogue,  please register at   exhibition@pdi-berlin.de .   Der Dialog wird auf Deutsc

Driven by rotten Dinosaurs

My son is 15 years old. He asked me what a FAX-machine was. He get's the strange concept of CDs because there is a rack full with them next to the bookshelf, which contains tons of paper bound together in colorful bundles, called 'books'. He still accepts that some screens don't react to you punching your fingers on them. He repeatedly asks why my 'car' (he speaks the quotation marks) is powered by 'rotten dinosaurs'. At the same time he writes an email to Elon Musks Neuralink asking for an apprenticeship and sets up discord-servers for don't-ask-me-what. And slowly I am learning that it is a very good thing to be detached from historic technology, as you don't try to preserve an outdated concept while aiming to innovate. The optimized light-bulb would be an a wee bit more efficient, tiny light-bulb. But not a LED. An optimized FAX would probably handle paper differently - it would not be a file-transfer-system. Hyper-modern CDs might have tenf