EyeWire: a videogame to help scientists trace the neurons in a retina

Robert sez, "The gamified EyeWire project, now in open beta, is about using human computation to help trace the neurons in a retina. Tracing the neurons will help nail down the computation that goes on inside the retina leading up to the optic nerve, and lead to better methods of brain mapping. Come and help explore the eye's jungle!"

Game 1: Reconstructing Neurons
The first step of the challenge is to reconstruct the tree-like shapes of retinal neurons by tracing their branches through the images. You will accomplish this by playing a simple game: helping the computer color a neuron as if the images were a three-dimensional coloring book. The collective efforts of you and other players will result in three-dimensional reconstructions of neurons like this. Playing the game does not require any specialized knowledge of neuroscience — just sharp eyes and practice. If you like, you can stop reading this page, and proceed to detailed instructions for the game here or simply start playing. On the other hand, if you’d like to know more about the scientific plan, read on.

Game 2: Identifying Synapses
Reconstructing neurons involves tracing their branches, which are like the “wires” of the retina. This by itself is not enough for finding connectomes; we also need to identify synapses. This kind of image analysis will be accomplished through another game that will be introduced on this website in the near future. The identification of synapses will involve subtleties, due to limitations of the dataset, as will be discussed in detail later on.

Rules of Connection
Playing either of the above games will produce information that will be valuable for understanding how the retina functions. How exactly will the information be used? To answer this question, we should confront the issue of variability. We expect that every retina will be wired somewhat differently. In that case, would mapping the connections in one retina tell us anything that is applicable to other retinas? We expect that retinal connectomes will obey invariant rules of connection, and it is these rules that really interest researchers. Many of the rules are expected to depend on neuronal cell types, i.e., of the form “Cell type A receives synapses from cell type B.” Some such rules are already known, but the vast majority remain undiscovered.

EyeWire – Help Map the Retinal Connectome

(Thanks, Robert!)