Researchers Unite in Quest for “Standard Model” of the Brain

Alison Abbott in Scientific American:

ScreenHunter_2826 Sep. 20 21.23Leading neuroscientists are joining forces to study the brain—in much the same way that physicists team up in mega-projects to hunt for new particles.

The International Brain Lab (IBL), launched on September 19, combines 21 of the foremost neuroscience laboratories in the United States and Europe into a giant collaboration that will develop theories of how the brain works by focusing on a single behaviour shared by all animals: foraging. The Wellcome Trust in London, and the Simons Foundation in Washington DC have together committed more than US$13 million over five years to kick-start the IBL.

The pilot effort is an attempt to shake up cellular neuroscience, conventionally done by individual labs studying the role of a limited number of brain circuits during simple behaviours. The ‘virtual’ IBL lab will instead ask how a mouse brain, in its entirety, generates complex behaviours in constantly changing environments that mirror natural conditions.

The project will use chips that can record the electrical signals of thousands of neurons at once. It will also use other emerging technologies, such as optogenetics toolkits that control neurons with light. “It’s a new approach that will likely yield important new insights into brain and behaviour,” says Tobias Bonhoeffer, a director of the Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology in Martinsried, Germany, who is also a Wellcome Trust governing-board member.

More here.