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Dissecting the architecture of the brain

“SmartNets” - a new Marie Skłodowska Curie Innovative Training in which seven PIs from 5 universities work together with 6 partner organizations to understand network computations.

Scientists immerse themselves into the structure of networks

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

Biological systems are organized into networks at every level, critically determined by its structure. This structure leads to behavior that can only be understood by analyzing the whole network in relation to its constituent parts. With the EU grant, five universities will work together with six partner organizations 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, analyzing 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, behavior, 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 analyze 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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