Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Getting to know the architecture of the brain

Date of news: 20 January 2020

Scientists from five universities immerse themselves into the structure of networks. They will investigate how the highly advanced networks in biological systems, from molecules to the brain, are build and how information is transferred through them. The European Union granted nearly 3.5 million euro for this. Fleur Zeldenrust from the Donders Institute is leading the project, called SmartNets.

NetworksBiological systems are organised into networks at every level. Think of the murmuration of starlings, the schooling of fish, or even hypes on social media or the spreading of power outages.

The behaviour of a network is 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, a Marie Skłodowska Curie Innovative Training Network, the 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 are still poorly understood.

Training data scientists of the future

In order to compare networks, simulated or physical ones, or healthy versus diseased, tools are needed across three dimensions: structure, activity and information processing. Many quantitative tools exist for analysing networks, but they are mostly restricted to one application domain or network type, and often only address one of these dimensions.

The novelty of this project will lie in the combination of existing and 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 money 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.

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