Class blog for sharing and commenting on current events in biology.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Kathleen Conaton Current Event

 In Seattle, Washington scientists are undergoing deliberate research on the study of the human brain. Clay Reid, senior investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science helped start the mount for an all- out investigation on part of the mouse brain, in 2012. Dr.Reid left Harvard Medical School in 2012 in an effort to be a part of the scientific research that approached science differently than the classic university environment.  The Allen Institute was already mapping the mouse brain in grave detail and specialized in the large scale accumulation of information in atlases and databases available to all of science.
Dr. Reid concentrated on one piece of how the brain works. He tried decoding workings of one part of the mouse brain, the million neurons in the visual cortex from molecules to behavior. In other words Dr. Reid was a part of the big puzzle of the investigation of the brain. Even though that the goal of the investigation is to find out more about the human brain, research on the human brain is very difficult and often can't be done. Work on the brains of mice and even flies is a common substitute for how they share common processes with human brains. The work of Dr. Reid and other scientists at Allen Institute are part of the surge of activity in brain research where scientists are trying to build the tools and knowledge on how brains and minds work. Numerous private and public research efforts in the US focusing on the human brain and nonhumans have been taking place, as well as the Obama's administration's $100 million Brain Initiative and the European Union's $1 billion decade long Human Brain Project.

To Reid, in order to crack the code of the brain is you need to figure out how the machine of the brain works, starting with its building blocks, cell types, and going through its physiology and anatomy. As well as that the problem of how the neural computation creates behavior is another problem at hand witch could help you crack the code. How does the mouse brain decide on action based on that input? The advances made by the Allen Institute are exciting but not yet done. When it comes to the brain there really is no end to figure out the knowledge of what goes on, you can only go deeper.

In the world today, furthering our knowledge of the human brain is important so that we know what goes on inside of our minds. When we further our knowledge of the human body we can help to find out more about ourselves and how to treat illnesses. Hopefully one day scientists can find a cure for cancer with their extensive research and knowledge of the human body.

Learning about how difficult it is to actually learn about our own brains was very interesting. So much money has been put into the research of the brains of humans and nonhumans and it really does make you hope that one day scientists will find an answer for everything in the body. Learning about Dr. Reid and his passion and drive for the knowledge on how the brain works was both interesting and inspiring. Dr. Reid left one of the best institutes in the world to go to a start up research institute all for a change in the view of science. He risked so much for his love and his desire to learn about the brain. Overall I was thoroughly captivated by this article and topic and am inspired to learn more.

Gorman, James. "The Brain’s Inner Language." The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 Feb. 2014. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.


  1. Kathleen did a great job of summarizing what Dr. Reid is studying, what the Allen Institute is researching and working on, and what kind of problems scientists face when trying to studying the human brain.
    I was interested and intrigued by the fact that Dr. Reid took the risk of leaving Harvard's prestigious medical school to join a startup, and by his efforts to link molecules or structures in the brain to actual behaviors, which could lead to new insights into why people and animals behave and react the way they do, as well as new advances in understanding mental diseases and possibly linking them to physical causes. I also was interested by the Allen Institute's efforts to collect data into databases that could let other scientists easily access and use data relevant to their studies.
    One thing that might improve the review would have been including more about how Dr. Reid and his colleagues plan to match pieces of the brain with their function experimentally, as this was the piece of the review that interested me the most.

  2. Thanks for commenting Chris. In Kathleen's defense, the article really didn't focus on the actual science of how they were mapping the brains. In fact at least two thirds of the article were about how the scientists got interested in this field and came to have careers in it, and the movement away from the small universities, towards privately-funded start-up type ventures. I thought the article was deceptive. The title and pictures make you think you are going to read about the latest discoveries in the inner-workings of the brain, and how scientists do this, but in the end you learn more about the scientists themselves. It's not Kathleen's fault, but that was just what the author of the article chose to emphasize. This is a drawback in my opinion, and something Kathleen could have highlighted in her critique. I thought she did a great job of trying to summarize a very lengthy and at times convoluted article.