Jan 29, 2013

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!)

No comments: