Projects that map the billions of connections within entire brains have always had a tinge of grandiosity. Yet to connectomists, these projects aren’t just the key to cracking the brain’s ultimate mysteries. Understanding how and why neurons form connections called synapses may be the path towards computer simulations that recreate human thoughts, memories, judgments, and even consciousness inside silicon hardware. For some brain regions, the data may even already be there.

This week, a branch of the European Blue Brain Project took a step back from boots-on-the-ground brain mapping to ask an extremely provocative question: what if we already have sufficient data to build a first draft of all the connections within the mouse cortex—some 88 billion synapses—but no one has looked in the right place?

Their key insight isn’t to gather more data. Rather, it’s to aggregate data from existing brain atlases, mapping their findings onto each other…
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