IBM to map the human brain
By Steve Malone
Posted on 7 Jun 2005 at 15:16
Using its most powerful computer, IBM along with the Swiss-based Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) are setting out on a project which will one day map out the entire human brain.
Known inevitably as the Blue Brain Project, researchers from both organisations plan to work together to map out the human neocortex. This area is thought to be the most complex and evolutionarily advanced part of the brain and is only found in mammals and is most developed in human beings. Biologists consider it to be especially involved in such areas as conscious thought, spatial reasoning and sensory perception.
Once the researchers have mapped the cortex, the scientists plan to continue to plot the rest of the brain.
Using the power of four racks of IBM's giant eServer Blue Gene supercomputer will create a 3D digital simulation of the brain at the molecular level. In doing so they hope to gain new insights into certain mental conditions such as autism.
The EPFL Blue Gene system will occupy only a few metres of space and yet will have a peak processing speed of at least 22.8 trillion floating-point operations per second (22.8 teraflops) able to model the high-speed electro-chemical interactions of the brain's interior in real time.
The first phase of the project will be to make a software replica of a column of the neocortex or cortex. The neocortex constitutes about 85 per cent of the human brain's total mass and therefore an accurate replica of the neocortical column is the essential first step to simulating the whole brain. The research will also link the genetic, molecular and cognitive levels of brain functions
'Modelling the brain at the cellular level is a massive undertaking because of the hundreds of thousands of parameters that need to be taken into account,' said project leader Professor Henry Markram. 'IBM has unparalleled experience in biological simulations and the most advanced supercomputing technology in the world. With our combined resources and expertise we are embarking on one of the most ambitious research initiatives ever undertaken in the field of neuroscience.'
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