Pre thinking

Allen Jones talks about brain mapping and his work with putting together an atlas of brain tissue from over 15, mostly adult male brains. As he closes his talk he says, “ the tools are there, and this is truly an unexplored, undiscovered continent. This is the new frontier, if you will. And so for those who are undaunted, but humbled by the complexity of the brain, the future awaits”. Think about what you could discover about the neuroscience of human behavior if you had access to this tool.

Why you should listen

The Allen Institute for Brain Science — based in Seattle, kickstarted by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen — has a mission to fuel discoveries about the human brain by building tools the entire scientific community can use. Think of the Allen Human Brain Atlas as a high-tech bridge between brain anatomy and genetics. Using this atlas, scientists will be able to determine where in the brain genes that encode specific proteins are active, including proteins that are affected by medication. Or researchers could zoom in on brain structures thought to be altered in mental disorders such as schizophrenia to find their molecular footprint. The atlas may provide clues to memory, attention, motor coordination, hunger, and perhaps emotions such as happiness or anxiety.

Jones says: “Understanding how our genes are used in our brains will help scientists and the medical community better understand and discover new treatments for the full spectrum of brain diseases and disorders.”

Who is he?

As CEO, one of Allan Jones’ first projects was to lead the drive to create a comprehensive atlas of the brain of a mouse. Flash forward to April 2011, when the Allen Institute announced the first milestone in its online interactive atlas of the human brain, showing the activity of the more than 20,000 human genes it contains. It’s based on a composite of 15 brains, since every human brain is unique.

Discussion questions

  1. How did Jones establish a collection of brains? What criteria were used in their selection? Why were there more male than female brains?
  2. How do scientists go about preparing slides for mapping? What is the procedure for brain mapping? What is the result?
  3. Go to the Allen Human Brain Atlas and do some comparative research on three brains. What do you observe and conclude?
  4. Jones says we are similar at the genetic and brain level—what is the importance for research that has reported significant gender or racial differences.
  5. Propose a study based upon using the brain atlas.
  6. What are some possibilities for these new tools when it comes to understanding human behavior?

A map of the brain with Allan Jones


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>