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From Angry Birds to brain mapping: The Gamification of Neuroscience

Mouse Reti­nal Neu­rons (Type 25), per Eye­Wire Muse­um

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A Quar­ter Mil­lion Gamers Helped Build This Incred­i­bly Detailed Map of the Brain (Sin­gu­lar­i­ty­Hub):

In 2012, when Angry Birds was in its prime, Seung had an inspi­ra­tion.

What if,” he won­dered, “we could cap­ture even a small frac­tion of the men­tal effort that goes into Angry Birds (for brain map­ping)? Think of what we could do.”

Although the ini­tial idea was to use deep learn­ing-based AI tools to recon­struct the neu­rons, humans were—and still are—better at spot­ting the pat­terns of neu­ronal branch­es and con­nec­tors than machines. Col­lab­o­rat­ing with Dr. Kevin Slavin, a fel­low pro­fes­sor at MIT with a back­ground in game design, Seung tried to make a game about brain trac­ing as enthralling as a first-per­son shoot­er. Spoil­er: you can’t … In the game, each play­er is giv­en a tiny cube of the reti­nal tis­sue, about 4.5 microns wide—that’s about the width of a human hair for a 10-by-10 block of cubes. To ensure accu­ra­cy, each cell is reviewed by between 5 and 25 gamers—if the results match up, the trace is accept­ed by the game as being com­plete. These traces are then fed as “train­ing data” to the deep learn­ing algo­rithm, which learns to bet­ter rec­og­nize indi­vid­ual neu­ronal branch­es among a giant tan­gled mass.

Even­tu­al­ly the goal is to auto­mate the entire process. While a pipe dream just five years ago, the pow­er of deep learn­ing in biol­o­gy has been trans­for­ma­tive. A recent study used a pow­er­ful algo­rithm to iden­ti­fy dead neu­rons in micro­scope-gen­er­at­ed images, a task nor­mal­ly rel­e­gat­ed to junior neu­ro­sci­en­tist trainees. As more data pours in, Eye­Wire may even­tu­al­ly learn to self-map, and such a strat­e­gy could be adopt­ed to explore oth­er regions in the brain in oth­er species.”

New Study based on EyeWire:

Dig­i­tal Muse­um of Reti­nal Gan­glion Cells with Dense Anato­my and Phys­i­ol­o­gy (Cell). High­lights:

  • A dig­i­tal “muse­um” pro­vides dense anato­my and phys­i­ol­o­gy of reti­nal gan­glion cells
  • The inner plex­i­form lay­er divides into four sub­lam­i­nae defined by anatom­i­cal cri­te­ria
  • The aggre­gate neu­rite den­si­ty of a gan­glion cell type is approx­i­mate­ly uni­form
  • Inner mar­gin­al gan­glion cells exhib­it sig­nif­i­cant­ly more sus­tained visu­al respons­es

To Learn More:

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