The top three news stories of the week, as chosen by our resident students. This week’s top stories include crowdsourced brain mapping, ants take the road less travelled (if it’s faster) and big data used to create a brain tumour atlas.
By Gintare Bucaite
Gamers mapping the brain
Looking for a game you could play during office hours and claim this is ‘for science!’? Look no further than this neuron mapping game called Eyewire.
Described in Cell this week, scientists at Princeton have crowdsourced brain mapping and with the help of with over a quarter million gamers online, have mapped thousands of neurons, leading to discovery of 6 new ganglion cell types! Eyewirers map neural networks of mouse retinal neurons, and the data used in the game comes from a type of scanning electron microscopy experiment, providing lots of 2D pictures which can be stacked together to create a 3 dimensional picture. The game itself resembles a colouring book. Players have to keep within the lines and trace where the lines go in 3D. Since the Eyewirer launch in 2012, gamers have coloured more than 10 billion of the tiny 3D ‘cubes’! Eyewire has everything every good online game needs, with a score board, chat, achievements and badges, except by playing the game you’re also contributing to the reconstruction of neural networks. There is now Eyewire Museum which showcases 1000 neurons that have been mapped by the players, revealing the beauty and complexity of neural circuits.
Ever taken a longer route just to avoid the crowds and found you got there faster? Termite-eating ants do that as well, and they don’t even need the citymapper app to help them decide on which way is best. Researchers at University of Würzburg in Germany studied termite-eating ant (Megaponera analis) in Côte d’Ivoire and concluded that when faced with uneven terrain, they’ll often choose the fastest, rather than the shortest route to their destination. Scientists have cleared the paths around the ant nest and tracked whether scout ants preferred taking those artificial highways when leading raiding parties to attack termites. While most ants rely on collective route decision based on pheromone-based maintenance of paths (communicating by releasing hormone messages), these termite-eating ants send individual scouts to explore the area, and once they find the termites, scouts lead a raid column to the site via the route that individual ant has picked. Scientists report that individual scout ants picked the fastest road 59% of the time, and saved around 35% of travel time – even though the direct way through the grass would have been shorter. This shows the importance of individual decision-making in the ant community and puts to shame all our failed attempts to find a new detour without relying on the map. Read the article here.
A brain tumour map
Researchers from the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle have generated a comprehensive atlas of the most lethal form of human brain cancer, glioblastoma. The dataset, named Ivy Glioblastoma Atlas, is anatomy-based transcriptional atlas for human glioblastoma, and it establishes a link between tumour anatomic features and gene expression profiles. The atlas was generated from 42 tumour samples and combines the information on different features such as shape and size (morphological) in clusters of living cells with in-depth analysis of RNA sequences and gene expression for individual tumour regions. The atlas is available online and other researchers have already used it to develop and test new hypotheses related to pathogenesis, diagnosis and treatment of glioblastoma. The Ivy atlas was described in Science this week.