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Scientists 'pickle' and map a fly's brain for the first time

A fruit fly's brain, mind you, because scientists love a challenge.
Timothy J. Seppala, @timseppala
September 16, 2016
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DEA / A. Calegari via Getty Images

Sure, fully mapping the human brain is impressive, but think about it: our thinking muscle is pretty big. Not to be outdone by this week's advances from the Allen Institute, scientists from Japan's Tokai University have made a 3D model of the neurons in a fruit fly's brain. Think about that for a bit. Exactly; it's tiny. Okay, ready to read some more? Cool.

As MIT Technology Review tells it, the scientists had to "pickle a fly brain in silver dye, bombard it with x-rays and then measure the way the x-rays are scattered in various directions." The silver dye is the key here because when it's attacked with x-rays, it illustrates neural pathways. It's a process called x-ray tomography.

This, coupled with a computer model that estimates an atom's position, resulted in a model that displays 100,000 neurons and boasts a resolution of 600 nanometers. All told, it took some 1,700 hours to build.

Making a higher resolution model, according to MIT, would be "prohibitively expensive in terms of human workload," though. Maybe picking a bigger brain would make things a little bit easier.

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