“2013’s Nobel Prize Winners” — Podcast 11: James Rothman, Randy Schekman & Thomas Südhof

On Episode 11 of The Connectome Podcast, I’m joined by all three of 2013’s Nobel Prize winners in the Physiology/Medicine category — James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas Südhof! All three of these guys contributed crucial pieces to a longstanding puzzle: How, exactly, do our brain cells communicate with each other? See, biologists had known since the 1960s that nerve cells pass chemical messages to one another inside hollow little globs of proteins called synaptic vesicles — and yet, as recently as the early 90s, no one had figured out much of anything about how this process worked. Meanwhile, as … Continue reading “2013’s Nobel Prize Winners” — Podcast 11: James Rothman, Randy Schekman & Thomas Südhof

The Top 5 Neuroscience Breakthroughs of 2013

If 2012 was the year neuroscience exploded into pop culture, 2013 was the year it stepped into the halls of power. The Obama administration’s $100-million BRAIN Initiative stirred up furious debate, as proponents cheered to see so much funding and press attention thrown at large-scale efforts to map the human brain, while opponents claimed that the whole thing might be a gigantic waste of valuable resources. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the European Union’s Human Brain Project sparked similar disputes – disputes that continue even as unexpected breakthroughs have begun to surface. It’s also been a year of explosive growth here … Continue reading The Top 5 Neuroscience Breakthroughs of 2013

The Search for a Nobel Prize-Winning Synapse Machine

In this article for Scientific American, I talk with all three winners of 2013’s Nobel prize in physiology or medicine, about the paths that led them to victory. Where did their scientific careers start? Did they have any idea they’d be working in this area of research, let alone discover something as profound as they did? And what, exactly, did they discover? The answers are here, and they may not be what you expect. Winners James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas Südhof all helped assemble our current picture of the cellular machinery that enables neurotransmitter chemicals to travel from one … Continue reading The Search for a Nobel Prize-Winning Synapse Machine

Brains of Autistic Children Are Surprisingly Hyper-Connected

In this article for Discover Magazine, I explore a new study that’s found an intriguing difference in the brains of autistic children: Different brain regions aren’t actually under-connected, as some researchers have believed – they’re actually hyper-connected, exchanging information much more than they would in a non-autistic brain. What does this mean? Could it point toward potential treatments for autism? The studies, one at San Diego State University and another at Stanford University, consisted of fMRI scanning of children and teens with autism and a non-affected control group, all of whom were directed to think about nothing in particular. The … Continue reading Brains of Autistic Children Are Surprisingly Hyper-Connected

“Crowdsourcing a Neuroscience Revolution” — Podcast 10: Sebastian Seung

On Episode 10 of The Connectome Podcast, I chat with Sebastian Seung, a neuroscience researcher whose latest work — in cooperation with teams at MIT, at Germany’s Max Planck Institute and at other cutting-edge institutions — is proving that an improbable-sounding dream isn’t so improbable after all: We may be able to map the structure and function of every neural connection in an entire mammalian nervous system, from the cellular level up… and it may happen within our lifetimes. Seung’s bestselling book Connectome offers an exciting tour through this fast-growing field of connectomics — and in fact, it was his … Continue reading “Crowdsourcing a Neuroscience Revolution” — Podcast 10: Sebastian Seung

The Neuroscience Revolution Will Be Crowdsourced

In this article for Scientific American, I dig into one of my very favorite scientific projects: The Human Connectome Project at MIT. What’s the deal with all this excitement? What exactly are these researchers trying to accomplish? And how close are they to accomplishing it? The answers to all these questions may surprise you. Once humans have drawn in these neuronal skeletons, an automated computer algorithm builds out a 3D model of each neuron’s three-dimensional shape. “If people had to color in the full three-dimensional shape of a neuron, instead of just drawing the skeleton, each neuron would take ten … Continue reading The Neuroscience Revolution Will Be Crowdsourced

Sexy Neuroscience IV

Every culture and subculture has its own rituals of greeting and affection – handshakes, backslaps, fist-bumps, hugs and so on – but when it comes to erotic contact, cultural differences seem to melt away into something more primal: Touch that just feels good for its own sake. In fact, a new study has confirmed that erogenous zones are remarkably similar and consistent among people from widely different cultures. This first “systematic survey of the magnitude of erotic sensations from various body parts” found that both men and women in Britain and in sub-Saharan Africa love be caressed on their lips, … Continue reading Sexy Neuroscience IV