Scientists Successfully Map Computational Language onto Neurons in the Brain
A novel study out of MIT is the first of its kind to accurately describe the behavior of certain classes of neurons using simple, yet subtle, mathematical formulas, aiding in the fight against neurological disease.
What's the Latest Development?
By studying a specific subclass of neurons, MIT researchers have found that simple mathematical formulas accurately describe how the brain allows us to perceive the world, control movements and make decisions. By programming two types of inhibitor cells to produce light-sensitive genes, researchers could easily activate them to study their effects on another type of neuron known as pyramidal cells. "The team combined this with calcium imaging inside the target pyramidal cells. Calcium levels reflect a cell’s electrical activity, allowing the researchers to determine how much activity was repressed by the inhibitory cells."
What's the Big Idea?
Thanks to new techniques that allowed researchers to target and manipulate well-defined cell classes, the ways in which different kinds of neurons interact with each other can be defined in computational language for the first time. The MIT study, published in the August 9 edition of Nature, reports that two major classes of brain cells repress neural activity in specific mathematical ways. "The findings could help scientists learn more about diseases thought to be caused by imbalances in brain inhibition and excitation, including autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder."
Photo credit: Shutterstock.com
In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.
- The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
- Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
- Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.
Military recruits are supposed to be assessed to see whether they're fit for service. What happens when they're not?
- During the Vietnam War, Robert McNamara began a program called Project 100,000.
- The program brought over 300,000 men to Vietnam who failed to meet minimum criteria for military service, both physically and mentally.
- Project 100,000 recruits were killed in disproportionate numbers and fared worse after their military service than their civilian peers, making the program one of the biggest—and possibly cruelest—mistakes of the Vietnam War.
The 116th Congress is set to break records in term of diversity among its lawmakers, though those changes are coming almost entirely from Democrats.
- Women and nonwhite candidates made record gains in the 2018 midterms.
- In total, almost half of the newly elected Congressional representatives are not white men.
- Those changes come almost entirely from Democrats; Republican members-elect are all white men except for one woman.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.