With $55 million, a collection of frozen human brains and robots capable of processing 192 brain slices a day, the Allen Brain Institute is attempting to do the impossible: systematically map out the expression patterns of more than 20,000 genes that make our grey matter tick.
The science behind the techniques isn’t new. Researchers have probed neurons with specific RNA bits in a revealing game of genetic hide-and-seek for 40 years. But the speed and scope with which they’re tackling the problem with specially-constructed robots that automate most of the data-gathering and analysis is unprecedented. When the Atlas is finished in 2012, scientists will start untangling the whys and hows of our neural network.