"I am my connectome"
One of the most recent fads in Science include the suffix "-ome". By now you must have noticed these words popping here and there, slowly infiltrating our scientific vocabulary and decorating our sentences with a sexy je ne sais quoi.
I am sure that at this day in age, you've come across words such as genomes, transcriptomes, proteomes, epigenomes and even microbiomes. But have you ever heard of connectomes? According to Dr. Sebastian Seung, a leader in this new neuroscience field, a connectome refers to an entire map of an individual's brain connections. But when I heard this for the first time, I asked myself why would someone be interested in such a massive and intricately impossible task? Is it even worth it?
Well, if Seung and other neuroscientists are right, then learning about these neural connections might be more important than we think. According to Seung, the connectome is the key to our conscience, "the bed to our stream of neural activity", the code to our memories, personalities and even our intellect. Wait a second, did you just say "code"?
Actually, Seung starts his latest TED TALK with a little blurb about the incomplete notion that our genome is the only "ome" that codes for our entire being. "I am more than my genes", he makes everyone in the crowd chant this, followed by "I am my connectome".
At first I was perplexed at his statement. We are definitely more than neural connections! But just as the epigenome regulates expression as a result of environmental exposure, overruling the genomic code; our thoughts and experiences change our connections and as a result restructure the initial connectome our genome might have generated at birth. In this light, I can start to understand where his statement comes from.
However, as convincing as Seung and his neuroscientist colleagues might be, there are still some people that are not buying it. A recent article explores both sides of the dilemma. The verdict: inconclusive. But some are hopeful that “this approach is going to shape our understanding of brain diseases in a fundamental way for many years to come” and that might be reason enough to welcome this new "ome" into our ever-growing world of "science-omics".