Understanding the Brain's Network Using DNA Sequencing
Will It Be Possible to Map Minds to the Cloud?
Sponsored by PSW Member Tim Thomas
Brains are complex circuits, consisting of billions of neurons connected by trillions of synapses. The precise details of this wiring diagram - which neurons are connected to which other neurons - are what endow us with the ability to think, feel, remember and act. Disruptions in the wiring can lead to neuropsychiatric disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia.
Unfortunately, current techniques in neuroscience cannot determine the wiring diagram. In this lecture, I will describe a novel technique developed by my laboratory - "MAPseq" - that has the potential to read out the entire wiring diagram of a mammalian brain efficiently and inexpensively. Traditionally, neuroanatomy has been viewed as a problem of microscopy. The key insight underlying the new technique is the recognition that neuroanatomy can be viewed as a problem of molecular biology and that doing so allows us to use the tremendous power of modern DNA sequencing technology to map all the connections between neurons in a whole brain at modest expense.
In addition to describing details of the method, I will speculate on whether knowledge of the full connection diagram will be enough to understand fully how the brain works, whether it will enable us to simulate a brain that thinks like we do on a computer, and whether it would then be possible to upload a mind to the cloud.
About the Speaker
Tony Zador is the Neuroscience Chair and the Harrison Professor of Biology at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. His research on cognition combines physiological, molecular, behavioral and computational studies of the neural mechanisms underlying auditory processing, attention and decision making. He and his colleagues recently developed a powerful new method for using DNA sequencing to determine on a brain wide scale the interconnections between individual neurons and to study their dynamics.
Tony came to Cold Spring Harbor as an Assistant Professor directly from his post-doctoral work at the Salk Institute and he has been at the Laboratory ever since then. He is an author on numerous scholarly publications and has founded and also organized many technical conferences. He also actively pursue opportunities to present neuroscience to a wider audience, and has appeared on a variety of television and other media to discuss his work and the work of others on understanding how the brain works.
Among other honors Tony holds the Alle Davis Harrison Chair in Neuroscience at Cold Spring Harbor. He also has been appointed a Brain Research Foundation Fellow, an Allen Distinguished Investigator, a Mathers Foundation Investigator, and a Sloan Foundation Fellow. In addition, he was named a Top 100 Global Thinker by Foreign Policy.
Tony earned a BS in Linguistics at UC-Berkeley and a PhD and MD at Yale, where his PhD thesis was on the biophysics of computation in single neurons.