Can playing a computer game help scientists learn more about neurons in the retina? Dr. Sebastian Seung, Professor of Computational Neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), thinks so.
EyeWire, a project developed by Dr. Seung, allows players to fill in 3-D images of neurons on a computer with color, which reveals the shape of that cell. By coloring in these shapes, the players help identify specific neurons that constitute retinal cells. This process then helps scientists map the connections between neurons in the retina, which can lead to a greater understanding of how vision works.
This is no small undertaking. According to Amy Robinson, Creative Director of the Seung Lab at MIT, it takes 50 hours to map one neuron, and there are 85 billion neurons in one human brain. To analyze the structure of these neurons, it’s necessary to examine a lot of images. However, computers can’t analyze these images: only human eyes—and human intelligence—will suffice. That’s why EyeWire is calling on the public, and fortunately, people are eager to help. By playing EyeWire, the public can become citizen scientists—even without a medical degree in ophthalmology or a background in neuroscience. By playing the coloring game, these intellectually curious gamers are helping scientists learn more about the eye, while having fun and connecting with others in this citizen science community.
To play EyeWire and learn more about the project, click here. Kudos to both the team at Seung labs at MIT and these citizen scientists for helping to further eye research!