Play with the brain: An online game that’s helping map the connections of the retina

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Sebastian Seung is one of the most influential explorers of our time — and his terrain is the human brain. You may remember Seung’s talk from TEDGlobal 2010, in which he uses the relatively new term “connectome,” to describe the connections between each of the hundreds of millions of neurons in our brains that make us who we are. Seung and his lab at MIT work to map these connections in order to understand both our visual and motion perception. Because of the vast number of neurons firing in our brain, this is work that could take years to complete.

To expedite this research, Seung’s lab has created EyeWire, an online game where any player, err “citizen scientist,” can map the neurons of the brain — cubic millimeter by cubic millimeter. The game features cubes made up of sections of neurons that need to be pieced together. The player colors in matching pieces to do so.

Amy Robinson, who met Seung at TEDGlobal and now works in his lab, says that this game is far more productive than, say, Angry Birds or online shopping.

“The brain is, in my opinion, the greatest quest of our time. We don’t even know how many types of cells are in the retina, much less the entire brain. We land on Mars, skydive from space and grow organs — yet the most alien territory is so close to home,” she says. “In the future we intend to augment the research of many labs with our community of citizen neuroscientists and help map the first entire human brain.”

Today, December 10, EyeWire is releasing a new challenge: for players to map the specific cells — J-type ganglion — associated with motion detection in the retina. Head to the EyeWire website to join this pioneering research or just watch the hilarious trailer for the game below.