BB&N Follow-up 1: Why Connectomics?

#1

Hi BB&N students!  Thanks for getting involved in Eyewire!  We really enjoyed having you visit and had a few questions for you.


1. What did you understand as the reason for finding the retinal connectome?
2. What is the main motivation for studying connectomics?

Let us know what you think!
#2

And remember, there’s no right answer for either of these questions - we just want to know what your takeaway has been based upon your experience in lab and with EyeWire. Thanks!

#3
  1. We mainly discussed about the direction-selective retinal cell when we met, and Dr. Seung seemed to talk about one reason he’s studying the retinal connectome to see how we humans, move and process information for movement; however, this only pertains to that specific type of cell. Ultimately, I think the reason for finding the retinal connectome is to study the connections and therefore gain a better understanding of how the retina cell works with other neurons. It would also be more helpful for us to target specific parts of the brain if a malfunction occurs rather than removing a large chunk of it. 
    2. Connectomics will allow us to gain a better understanding on how our body (in specific, our neurons) work. We can also be more precise in dealing with mental disorders by pinpointing the certain area where the malfunction occurs. Hopefully in the future, we can map our entire brain and also develop more advanced technology during the process as well. I’m eager to see how much more information we’ll gain on this field in the next few decades! 
#4
Mapping the retina would provide a foundation for how everything is connected as well as find explanations for retinal properties.  A map could target the individual connections of these neurons and be used to understand the processes of light detection, motion detection, anticipation, etc.  One of the most inspiring motivations, I would think, for doing this project is the potential to find a single connection that leads to a mental disorder: in the future, instead of removing a large chuck of the brain, a smaller section could be targeted that would remove the same anomaly causing the disorder.  

The process of finding the retinal connectome is cutting-edge science.  The scale of the project is in the range of the Human Genom Project -- it would be an amazing feat to map the human brain or even just the retina, and I love that we can be involved.
#5

Mapping the retinal connectome will detail how all the neurons of the retina are connected. With that information, neuroscientists will be able to make significant strides in understanding the function of specific cells within the retina. In particular, as we discussed, it will be possible to learn why some cells are direction-selective and others are not and why the pathways from cells to cells are wired the way they are.    


Connectomics will also have larger implications on the health and well-being of humans, particularly related to mental health. With a fuller understanding of the neurons within the brain, it will be possible to study how the brains of those with mental illness differ from those without. It would also be easier to repair the brain, by focusing on the certain sections that are known to be the problem, instead of larger chunks of the brain. 

As Serena and Grace have said, this project is very exciting and innovative, and I am so glad that we can be involved. 
#6

The reason for finding the retinal connectome as I understood it was to map the connections between the different cells.  This will allow us to see how the signals travel though the cells & why some cells are direction selective while others are not.  This would give us the ability to determine the functions of individual cells within the retina.


In connection with finding the retinal connectome, the study of connectomics could potentially give great insight into medicine.  As Dr. Seung said, its hard to cure a problem if you don’t know the cause.  This project has the potential to open a entire realm of answers to numerous diseases inside the brain.  This could be extraordinarily helpful to victims of epilepsy and other brian disorders.  It is extremely exciting that this project is moving forward, and I cannot wait to see the progress that it makes in the near future!

#7

The purpose of dissecting the connectome has several short term and long term goals. In the short term, we learn more about neurons and their interactions in the brain every day of mapping. These interactions can be studied to determine the sources of various mental diseases and deficiencies. In the long term, a fully mapped connectome (according to theory) could represent a human “conciousness.”

I suppose the main purpose of studying the connectomics is to learn more about the brain, an organ we still know very little about. If we fully understood the connectome, we could learn more about and potentially solve various problems and defects in the human brain. This could be an important step towards helping people who have diseases like alzheimers or seizures. Perhaps, if we really do understand the connectome some day, such diseases could be solved with brain surgery. That would be an amazing breakthrough in medicine.

#8
     Mapping the retina is really important for discovering more about how neural connections in the eye can change and impact vision. A map of synaptic connections would give scientists a better picture of how neurons interact. This would lead to a better understanding of how degeneration and damage to the brain can lead to mental illness and comas and thus how to repair such damage. Even deeper into the future of commectomics, scientists could understand the root of consciousness, memory, individualism, and the interaction between genetics and environment in shaping the mind.  For the immediate future however, study the human connectome will lead to important discovers in the basic rules that govern the connections between neurons.  

     Mapping the retinal connectome is at the cutting-edge of neurology and is a momentous task that will have to analyze billions of terabytes of data for just one person's brain.  At the cross-section of main different fields, connectomics is a fascinating and interdisciplinary field, that will become more and more important in decades to come.