HOW TO BUILD A BRAIN

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Things Come Apart -

‘The brain is the most com­plex struc­ture in the known uni­verse,’ says Allen In­sti­tute chief sci­en­tific of­fi­cer Christof Koch. Here’s how to make one.

First, pro­cure roughly 86 bil­lion neu­rons (A), which are cells that col­lect in­for­ma­tion from other cells, via pro­jec­tions that look like tree branches (den­drites [B]) and shoot that in­for­ma­tion down itty-bitty cat­tle prods (ax­ons [C]) us­ing elec­tric­ity gen­er­ated by sodium and potas­sium ions.

Next, get some as yet un­known num­ber of sup­port cells called glia. These in­clude oligo­den­dro­cytes, which wrap the high­ways of the long­est, most im­por­tant ax­ons in fatty sheaths to speed up their elec­tri­cal sig­nals; as­tro­cytes (D), which look like sponges and can com­mu­ni­cate with each other; and mi­croglia, which act as the brain’s pri­vate im­mune sys­tem.

Each neu­ron should have an av­er­age of 7 000 con­nec­tions, mostly through synapses: empty space that must be crossed by chem­i­cals. There are more than 100 of these chem­i­cals (neu­ro­trans­mit­ters) and many neu­rons re­lease more than one.

All of your neu­rons and glia and other bits must self­assem­ble, and their con­nec­tions should change based on what your brain en­coun­ters. Ev­ery sin­gle time your new brain does some­thing it re­mem­bers later, such as read­ing this story, some parts of the net­work have to change per­ma­nently. Good luck!

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