Dissecting the architecture of the brain

Scientists immerse themselves into the structure of networks

June 26, 2020

Under the framework of a new Marie Sklodowska Curie Innovative Training Network, an international team of scientists, including our Max Planck Research Group Leader, Julijana Gjorgjieva, will investigate how the highly advanced networks in biological systems, from molecules to the brain, are build and how they process information and perform computations. The European Union granted nearly 3.5 million euro for the project, called Smart Network Structures, or SmartNets.

Biological systems are organised into networks at every level, critically determined by its structure. This structure leads to behaviour that can only be understood by analysing the whole network in relation to its constituent parts. With the EU grant, five universities will work together with six partner organisations to understand network computations.

The relation between network structure and information processing, is essential at every scale: from molecules and genes to large neural networks, such as the brain. On every level, nodes form complex networks underlying the most essential functions of the functioning of the brain, body and society. Only recently, with high-throughput techniques, we have begun to collect the vast amounts of data needed to study the structure and functioning of these networks. However, analysing these data is still a challenge and the nature of complex network processes is still poorly understood.

In order to compare networks, simulated or physical ones, or healthy versus diseased ones, tools are needed across three dimensions: structure, activity and information processing. The novelty of this project lies in the combination of existing and the development of new techniques, from different research domains, and across the three analysis dimensions. By transcending specific data sets or domains, the researchers expect to open up new insights into the properties, behaviour and dynamic evolution of biological networks. The grant will largely be used to train the data scientists of the future. They will be able to analyse biological networks across levels, domains and types.

Julijana Gjorgjieva is one of the scientists driving this collaborative effort. “Our work in this project will aim to identify how network structures emerge and change during postnatal development in model organisms establishing mature network connectivity and computations”, Gjorgjieva says.





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