Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Brains, worms and computer chips have striking similarities

Date:
April 23, 2010
Source:
University of California - Santa Barbara
Summary:
Scientists have discovered striking similarities between the human brain, the nervous system of a worm, and a computer chip. Using data that is largely in the public domain, including magnetic resonance imaging data from human brains, a map of the nematode's nervous system, and a standard computer chip, they examined how the elements in each system are networked together.

This is Danielle Bassett with a depiction of the neuronal system of the nematode worm, C. elegans.
Credit: George Foulsham, Office of Public Affairs, UCSB

An international team of scientists has discovered striking similarities between the human brain, the nervous system of a worm, and a computer chip. The finding is reported in the journal PLoS Computational Biology.

"Brains are often compared to computers, but apart from the trivial fact that both process information using a complex pattern of connections in a physical space, it has been unclear whether this is more than just a metaphor," said Danielle Bassett, first author and a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Physics at UC Santa Barbara.

The team of scientists from the U.S., the U.K., and Germany has uncovered novel quantitative organizational principles that underlie the network organizations of the human brain, high performance computer circuits, and the nervous system of the worm, known as nematode C. elegans. Using data that is largely in the public domain, including magnetic resonance imaging data from human brains, a map of the nematode's nervous system, and a standard computer chip, they examined how the elements in each system are networked together.

They found that all three shared two basic properties. First, the human brain, the nematode's nervous system, and the computer chip all have a Russian doll-like architecture, with the same patterns repeating over and over again at different scales.

Second, all three showed what is known as Rent's scaling, a rule used to describe the relationship between the number of elements in a given area and the number of links between them.

Worm brains may seem to have very little in common with human brains and even less in common with computer circuits, explained Bassett. In fact, each of these systems contains a pattern of connections that are locked solidly in a physical space, similar to how the tracks in a railway system are locked solidly to the ground, forming traffic paths that have fixed GPS coordinates. A computer chip starts out as an abstract connectivity pattern, which can perform a specific function. Stage two involves mapping that connectivity pattern onto the two-dimensional surface of the chip. This mapping is a key step and must be done carefully in order to minimize the total length of wires -- a powerful predictor of the cost of manufacturing a chip -- while maintaining the abstract connectivity or function.

"Brains are similarly characterized by a precise connectivity which allows the organism to function, but are constrained by the metabolic costs associated with the development and maintenance of long 'wires,' or neurons," said Bassett. She explained that, given the similar constraints in brains and chips, it seems that both evolution and technological innovation have developed the same solutions to optimal mapping patterns.

She explained that this scaling result may further explain a well-known but little-understood relationship between the processing elements (neuronal cell bodies, or gray matter) and wiring (axons, or white matter) in the brains of a wide range of differently sized mammals -- from mouse to opossum to sea lion -- further suggesting that these principles of nervous system design are highly conserved across species.

This work suggests that market-driven human invention and natural selection have negotiated trade-offs between cost and complexity in designing both types of information processing network: brains and computer circuits.

Bassett worked closely with Edward Bullmore, professor of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge. He explained: "These striking similarities can probably be explained because they represent the most efficient way of wiring a complex network in a confined physical space -- be that a three-dimensional human brain or a two-dimensional computer chip."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California - Santa Barbara. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Danielle S. Bassett, Daniel L. Green, Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, Daniel R.Weinberger, Simon W. Moore and Edward T. Bullmore. Efficient physical embedding of topologically complex information processing networks in brains and computer circuits. PLoS Computational Biology, 2010; DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000748

Cite This Page:

University of California - Santa Barbara. "Brains, worms and computer chips have striking similarities." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 April 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100422184049.htm>.
University of California - Santa Barbara. (2010, April 23). Brains, worms and computer chips have striking similarities. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 18, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100422184049.htm
University of California - Santa Barbara. "Brains, worms and computer chips have striking similarities." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100422184049.htm (accessed April 18, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, April 18, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Study On Artists' Brain Shows They're 'Structurally Unique'

Study On Artists' Brain Shows They're 'Structurally Unique'

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) The brains of artists aren't really left-brain or right-brain, but rather have extra neural matter in visual and motor control areas. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Is Apathy A Sign Of A Shrinking Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 17, 2014) A recent study links apathetic feelings to a smaller brain. Researchers say the results indicate a need for apathy screening for at-risk seniors. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

Are School Dress Codes Too Strict?

AP (Apr. 16, 2014) Pushing the limits on style and self-expression is a rite of passage for teens and even younger kids. How far should schools go with their dress codes? The courts have sided with schools in an era when school safety is paramount. (April 16) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Could Even Casual Marijuana Use Alter Your Brain?

Newsy (Apr. 16, 2014) A new study conducted by researchers at Northwestern and Harvard suggests even casual marijuana use can alter your brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins