The Connectome Blog and Scientific Community

Connectome-Masthead“Connectomics” is a nascent but growing discipline. As evidence of this, a simple pubmed search of Connectome will show that at the end of 2010 there were fewer than 20 papers using the word. It’s growth seems to be exponential, however, as today the same search yields nearly 200 hits. One of the artifacts of being an emerging discipline is that there is very little established infrastructure for promoting community between all of the various participants in the field. Probably the most prominent are some meetings occasionally hosted by HHMI or the Max Planck Society to discuss primarily methodological concerns. There is even still some confusion on how best to circumscribe the discipline… groups with ever-expanding lists of approaches are choosing to attach themselves to the term. So it seems there is a real need for additional infrastructure for promoting communication between groups taking very different approaches to understanding nervous system connectivity. The obvious structures that are missing would be scientific meetings or sessions at other meetings. Less obvious would be information-aggregation sites that are prominent in model organism communities (see for example www.wormbase.org). At least two sites already exist that can provide some of that structure, at least for making data available (openconnectome, specific to connectome data, and the Cell Centered Database, which hosts a broad range of 3D image data). Currently, there doesn’t seem to be much that fills the role of providing “news” to the community… One such attempt to do so is the Connectome Blog, run by Ben Thomas. On this site he has a section with blog posts about connectivity-related news, as well as a podcast where he interviews various people associated with Connectomics. The blog is pretty active and the guy seems to work pretty hard.. one bit of value I see in it is that it is written from the perspective of a journalist… perhaps a better aggregator of news than the typical bench scientist. The interviews in the podcasts are certainly worth checking out and offer some insight that you aren’t going to find in a journal publication… hopefully he keeps up the good work, and I highly recommend checking them out! If you like the podcasts, also check out THIS LINK for an interview  with John White, one of the drivers behind the C. elegans connectome work.

Does anyone have any thoughts on promoting community among Connectome-ologists? Is there a need for more than what we have?

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3 responses to “The Connectome Blog and Scientific Community

  1. Nice to see this and thanks for finding the link. My thoughts on that were that the community would have to step up and start doing it, but the problem is one of time and resources which is a problem he in the US given then Sequestration and continued inability of science funding to keep up with Inflation.

    The problem of course with any one lab taking this on is one of bias, so it’s nice to see this being tackled from a journalistic perspective.

    After I get off this plane, I’ll spend some more time on the Connectome Blog, but it would be intriguing to continue this dialogue.

  2. Thanks for the response.. I guess I am not even sure what kind of community infrastructure is really needed, partly because this requires a certain amount of people to have coalesced on what their major needs might be. But, taking lessons from the foundation of the C. elegans community, having some venue for less formal exchange of information would be something useful. For C. elegans, it took the form of a newsletter (the Worm-Breeder’s gazette). For Connectomics it could be some kind of forum, but I am not sure there would be a critical mass of people that would use it. Or maybe more of an online magazine, where protocols or ideas could be published. But, as I mentioned above, I think there is still some flexibility in how such a community might be defined… For myself, I am asking if I want to identify with groups studying just dense-neural circuit micro-connectomes at the level of the synapse, or any kind of brain connectivity including functional imaging?

    • Yeah, so I’d argue that the *only* way to do dense neural circuit connectomes or micro connectomes is at the level of the synapse… Or actually less. We’re finding that you need to be able to render out gap junctions to *truly* define what connectivity is. The meso scale has a place, but the real action is on the fine scale connectivity where you can make real determinations.

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