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Major breakthrough of the three-dimensional neural image database has been selected as the cover story of the Current Biology

2011/01/11

The Computational Biology Team of the NCHC and the Brain Research Center of National Tsing Hua University jointly established the world’s first three-dimensional neural image database and constructed a Drosophila neural wiring diagram. The major breakthrough of the research findings has been published as the cover story in the January 2011 issue of Current Biology, an important academic journal in the field of biology (Impact Factor = 10.992), ranking 15/283 among journals in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology fields. A few well-known scientific websites, such as ScienceBlogs.org used the three-dimensional image and animation of the Drosophila brain, and EurekAlert.org posted a special article to introduce the database as well. 

the cover story in the “Current Biology” journal
¡½Major breakthrough of three-dimensional neural image database published as the cover story in the “Current Biology” journal.

Among the Drosophila brain research teams, NCHC is mainly responsible for the construction and maintenance of the “FlyCircuit”, three-dimensional neural image  database, the processing of a large amount of three-dimensional neural image information using high performance computing resources, analysis of the neural circuits of the Drosophila brain, and the building of the neural wiring diagram. Researchers around the world can easily search and browse three-dimensional neural images online by search tools, and upload obtained Drosophila neural images for analysis through the three-dimensional image service system. The three-dimensional image service system developed by the NCHC has the following characteristics: 1) worldwide online accessibility to analyze and compare three-dimensional images via personal computer; 2) automatic procedural construction and management of three-dimensional image database; and 3) provision of services for any combination of three-dimensional images for simultaneous multiple users using the cloud architectural image server.

There are about 100,000 nerve cells in the Drosophila brain. By using a confocal microscope to capture images, the research team has obtained high-resolution three-dimensional images of about 16,000 nerve cells of the Drosophila brain, and reconstructed them into a Drosophila “standard brain”. During the analyzing process of the three-dimensional Drosophila brain neural network, the research team sorted out 41 “local processing units” and 6 “hubs”, which are interconnected with each other by 58 tracts. After the analysis of the links of the local computational units, four known functional modules including the vision, olfactory, auditory, and locomotion are defined. The understanding of the operations of such neural networks is the first step toward the understanding of human brain, because research findings indicate that a Drosophila brain and the human brain use 6 same types of neurotransmitters, and are very similar in the two interlocking hemisphere brain structure.

The online release of research results on December 2, 2010 caused many repercussions in the academic community. New York Times reported the achievements on December 14. Prof. Ralph Greenspan of UC San Diego was quoted as saying in the report that “I think this is the beginning of a new world, and biologists should now be able to match the fruit fly’s well-studied behaviors to the brain circuits established by the new atlas.” In the same article, Dr. Josh Dubnau of the U. S. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory also said that by this database, researchers can search and upload Drosophila neural images globally, and thus, the study can actually be accelerated.

Another researcher that has spent years on the study of the human brain neural network, Prof. Olaf Sporns of the Indiana University, was surprised and said “Yesterday I almost fell out of my chair.” He found that the Drosophila brain neural interconnection matrix looks extremely similar to the human brain cortex matrix that he had been studying for years. Both the Drosophila brain and human brain are constructed according to the principle of “small world”, which means highly localized nerve concentration and long-range connections.

This database will be updated until a complete map of the total 100 thousand neurons of the Drosophila brain is compiled. The neural images obtained, as well as relevant analysis tools, are open to the public in the “FlyCircuit” database. Several hundred researchers from 50 countries have registered for the use of the database at the following website: http://www.flycircuit.tw/.

the picture of FlyCircuit three-dimensional neural image database
¡½FlyCircuit three-dimensional neural image database
 

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