At a time when humans can have tattoo guns in the form of prosthetic hands and create puffy, white clouds from a mixture of suds, you’d think our own brains should be something we’ve mastered. Alas, our bodies are incredibly complicated to grasp a full understanding of. But thanks to science, we’re one step closer to figuring out what makes us all “us.”
“The brain is not like a computer that can support any operating system and run any software,” said David Van Essen, a neuroscientist from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “Instead, the software – how the brain works – is intimately correlated with the brain’s structure – its hardware, so to speak. If you want to find out what the brain can do, you have to understand how it is organised and wired.”
Scientists took data from the brain scans of 210 healthy young men and women from the Human Connectome Project, a long-term study that’s been scanning the brains of 1,200 young adults with an MRI machine. The participants each had their brains scanned while resting and performing simple tasks like listening to a story, all while the scans recorded measurements of the thickness of each person’s cortex and everything from connections between brain regions to the landscape of brain cells.
Researchers were then able to build a detailed diagram that included many of the brain’s discrete regions. And because no one ever said double-checking was a bad thing, they ran the results against the scans of another 210 young adults.
What they found was astonishing – 97 new areas of the brain that have never been seen before! Though the new areas varied greatly in size because no two humans are the same, the overall layout appeared to be consistent. They also confirmed 83 regions that were identified in a previous search. The discovery brings researchers and scientists one step closer to understanding our complex behaviors, even offering new insight for complicated disorders like autism, schizophrenia, and dementia.
Science is pretty awesome. Find out more about the brain map in the video below!