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The Most Detailed Brain Scans the World Has Ever Seen Has Been Seen

Mar 05, 2013 09:05 PM EST

In an effort to determine how a person’s brain structure influences their talents and behavior, U.S. scientists have published what they call “the most detailed brain scans the world has ever seen.”

The project which goes by the name of Human Connectome has published the scans of 68 adults who participated in the study. The information is made freely available to neuroscientists in their quest to unlock the secrets of the human brain.

Sharing the data with the international community of researchers, Prof David Van Essen of Washington University in St Louis told BBC News, will spur rapid advances in brain science.

It is the project’s goal to scan 1,200 people and also collect details of their behavioral traits and DNA.

"We are very optimistic that as the community delves in and begins working on these data sets, they will reveal new insights into the brain circuits of healthy adults," said Essen, who happens to wear the project leader hat.

According to him, the subjects have their brain scanned for a total of four hours. For part of that time, they carry out a battery of tasks, which include arithmetic, listening to stories, gambling and moving parts of their body.

Volunteers also engage in tests that assess their skills and abilities. In addition, DNA samples are taken.

The scans are essentially a wiring diagram for each person's brain.

They show how different parts are connected by nerve fibers and also the thickness of the bundles, which is thought to be an indication of the importance or strength of a particular connection- a so-called "structural map".

Scanning can also show which parts of the brain are activated for particular tasks - known as a "functional map".

With all this information, researchers will be able to see if an individual's brain wiring is related to their skills, such as musicality, sociability and aptitude for science or maths.
"We have the highest quality data of the entire human brain that the world has ever seen. The question is that with more cutting edge (scanning) methods, how much can we decipher the circuits that give us our distinctive capabilities?" Professor Essen said.

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