When President Obama mentioned mapping the brain in his State of the Union address, he may have been hinting at a big science goal for the White House. The administration is readying a project to investigate the human brain at a level on par with the Human Genome Project, the New York Times reports. The effort will take a decade and could cost more than $3 billion, but it will likely offer "more bang for the buck" than the Genome Project, according to an expert. That project ultimately provided an economic boost, Obama says.
New systems could make the massive complexity of 100 billion neurons easier to parse. One method, the Times notes, could turn to "molecule-size machines" capable of sensing brain activity. Still, scientists may be looking at a challenge far greater than the genome work. "We have a more difficult and fascinating question of what are brain-wide activity patterns and ultimately how do they make things happen?" says a researcher. That could answer questions about diseases ranging from Alzheimer's to Parkinson's, not to mention artificial intelligence. Obama will likely include the project in next month's budget proposal.