“I’m in the dissection room of the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, and the scientist next to me is in a hurry: His specimen—this fragile cortex—is falling apart. Dying, the gray matter turns acidic and begins to eat away at itself; nucleic acids unravel, cell membranes dissolve. He takes a thin, sterilized knife and slices into the tissue with disconcerting ease. I’m reminded of Jell-O and guillotines and the meat counter at the supermarket. He saws repeatedly until the brain is reduced to a series of thin slabs, which are then photographed and rushed to a freezer. All that remains is a pool of blood, like the scene of a crime.
Behind all the gore there’s a profound purpose: The scientists here are mapping the brain. And while conventional brain maps describe distinct anatomical areas, like the frontal lobes and the hippocampus—many of which were first outlined in the 19th century—the Allen Brain Atlas seeks to describe the cortex at the level of specific genes and individual neurons. Slices of tissue containing billions of brain cells will be analyzed to see which snippets of DNA are turned on in each cell.”
[READ MORE of this article from WIRED Magazine]