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How does one make a brain atlas? John Ngai, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley explains. “You can think of it as a taxonomy. You might think about what are all the species of birds that there are on Earth, you might think of it as needing to first identify those types.” So, just like with a bird encyclopedia, UC Berkeley neurologists are trying to find and organize brain cells into a catalogue of sorts. “We know there are many different types of neurons in the brain. They look different. We might have some ideas about how they function differently. But we have no rational way of categorizing them. But using new molecular and genetic techniques, we have a very powerful way of classifying them.” The brain atlas is an ambitious multimillion-dollar project that will help researchers better understand how brain cells wire up and function. And that could be the key to cure of neurological diseases, including autism and Alzheimer’s. For Science Today, I’m Larissa Branin.

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