Brain technology, like all technology today, is making advances more quickly than ever before.
One of the techniques that are helping scientists to keep the ball rolling is the ability to monitor more and more of the brain in LIVING animals. In ACTIVE, living animals, not just while they are at rest. That is a huge step forward in understanding how brains work through neural imaging!
OK, well the animals may not be going about their business as they would if no one was watching them, but there is some pretty interesting technology that can record their brains in the midst of activity.
One of the animals studied is a small worm, with a less-complex nervous system (they have around 7 – 8,000 synapses between their 302 neurons) and since they move slowly it was easy enough to build microscopes that could follow them around, back in the late 1990’s. But back then the scientists had to control the microscopes with a joystick, and now the newer versions are automated. They also are able to zoom into any location within their brain to see what is happening with the neurons.
To make the show even more interesting, their neurons can be stimulated by exposure to light.
With the ability to automate the microscopes, scientists are able to track several worms at one time, which cuts down dramatically the time it takes to run a single experiment.
This is an example of the advances that have been made in monitoring just one type of animal, but there are many others of differing complexity. Even use of little robots to find cells!
To find out more about automation in brain monitoring for some more complex animals, read the entire article about automation in neural imaging on The Scientist:
Brains in Action