The era of Big Neuroscience has arrived.
In late January, The Human Brain Project—an attempt to create a computer simulation of the brain at every scale from the nano nano to the macro biotic—announced that it had successfully arranged a billion Euro funding package for a 10-year run.
And then on Feb. 18, an article in The New York Times took the wraps off a plan to spend perhaps billions of dollars for an effort to record large collections of brain cells and figure out what exactly they are doing.
Is this the Large Hadron Collider vs. the Superconducting Supercollider redux?
Not yet. The billions for the Brain Activity Map, the U.S. project, are still a wish that has yet to be granted.
But, despite as-always hazy government finances, brain researchers are thinking large as they never have before, and invoking the attendant rhetoric of moon shots, next-generation Human Genome Projects and the need for humankind to muster the requisite visionary zeal to tackle one of science’s “last frontiers.” Oy, spare me that last part.
The challenges these projects have set for themselves, though, illustrate the challenge of going from today’s crude profiles of a biological machine of incomprehensible complexity to an accurate rendering of the goings-on of some 100 billion neurons woven together by a pulsating tapestry of 100 trillion electrical interconnections.