The Blue Brain Project is an attempt to reverse engineer the human brain and recreate it at the cellular level inside a computer simulation. The project was founded in May 2005 by Henry Markramat the EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland. Goals of the project are to gain a complete understanding of the brain and to enable better and faster development of brain disease treatments.

The research involves studying slices of living brain tissue using microscopes and patch clampelectrodes. Data is collected about all the many different neuron types. This data is used to build biologically realistic models of neurons and networks of neurons in the cerebral cortex. The simulations are carried out on a Blue Gene supercomputer built by IBM. Hence the name “Blue Brain”. The simulation software is based around Michael Hines’s NEURON, together with other custom-built components.

As of August 2012 the largest simulations are of mesocircuits containing around 100 cortical columns (image above right). Such simulations involve approximately 1 million neurons and 1 billion synapses. This is about the same scale as that of a honey bee brain. It is hoped that a rat brain neocortical simulation (~21 million neurons) will be achieved by the end of 2014. A full human brain simulation (86 billion neurons) should be possible by 2023 provided sufficient funding is received.

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