ReadCoor joins the Wyss Institute’s IARPA MICrONS brain mapping consortium
ReadCoor, Inc. of Cambridge, MA announced on March 14 that it has joined the multi-disciplinary consortium led by the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University to map the brain’s neural circuitry with unprecedented resolution and precision. The consortium is made possible through a $21 million contract from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) under the MICrONS program to discover the brain’s learning rules and synaptic ‘circuit design,’ further enhancing neurally-derived machine learning algorithms.
ReadCoor will apply FISSEQ – Fluorescent In-Situ Sequencing – its proprietary spatial sequencing platform to push forward the project’s neuronal connectomics goals. Neural connectomics is the science of identifying how neuronal cells are connected. In addition, MICrONS will integrate how neurons work together in specific brain functions. FISSEQ was developed in 2014 by Wyss Core Faculty member George Church, principal investigator of the consortium, and colleagues, who subsequently founded ReadCoor to bring FISSEQ into mainstream research use.
Unlike traditional sequencing technologies, FISSEQ provides a method to pinpoint the precise locations of specific RNA molecules in intact tissue. ReadCoor’s role in the brain mapping consortium will be to apply FISSEQ capability to accurately detail the complete set of neuronal cells and their connecting processes in intact brain tissue, which is difficult and costly to accomplish by current methods. With locations of synapses and their neurons established, another consortium member, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, will generate a graphic “map” representing all neural connections.
“In an era of self-driving cars, robotics, clinical decision support, and speech recognition; new approaches to artificial intelligence are needed for these emerging technology demands,” said Shawn Marcell, CEO of ReadCoor. “We are privileged by the opportunity to make a fundamental contribution to the technological framework used to decipher how the brain operates in the drive to create more advanced machine learning systems.”
Traditional methods of neural mapping rely on the laborious tracing of synapses and neurons. However, as the distance between synapses increases, errors in tracing accumulate and must be reduced with complex image analysis. Instead of tracing, the Wyss consortia is using a novel combination of technologies to encode the synapse with the ‘name’ of its parent neuron. Thus, when two synapses are separated by a large distance, each synapse contains its parent’s name, and it is immediately known if they are from the same or different neurons without tracing between them. In addition to the parent neuron’s name, the 3D location of each synapse in space is recorded. With this information, rendering an accurate neural map becomes a simple graph problem.
The multi-disciplinary consortium spans 7 institutions. ReadCoor’s team is led by Richard Terry, Samuel Inverso, PhD, Brian Turczyk, PhD, and Allison Martin. In addition to consortium Principal Investigator George Church, Ph.D., the Harvard Wyss Institute’s effort is led by co-Investigator Richie Kohman, Ph.D. Complementing the Wyss team, are co-Principal Investigators Anthony Zador, Ph.D., Alexei Koulakov, Ph.D., and Alexander Vaughan, Ph.D., at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Adam Marblestone, Ph.D., and Liam Paninski, Ph.D. are co-Investigator at MIT and co-Principal Investigator at Columbia University, respectively, and the scientists are partnering with another MICrONS team led by Tai Sing Lee, Ph.D. and Sandra Khulman, Ph.D. as co-Principal Investigators at Carnegie Mellon University.