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Seminars on Medicine - Vision of the Future (Part 1) - Dec 2005

Seminar 1 - Vision of the Future (Part 1) - Dec 2005

This seminar features three Nobel Prize winners. Susumu Tonegawa - 1987 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, Sydney Brenner - Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2004 and Richard Axel - Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2004.

Susumu Tonegawa provides not only a history and overview of the Picower Institute (Picower Institute for Learning and Memory), but a rundown of the latest insights about memory and cognition emerging from his and colleagues’ labs. As for the future, Tonegawa calls for "new technology, based on totally new principles, which can analyze what’s going on in the brain at the level of a single synapse," as well as new diagnostic and therapeutic methods for psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases.

Sydney Brenner says the "connection between genotype and phenotype, especially for complex animals, will remain the most challenging problem in biology." He says there are deep intellectual problems to be solved, such as computing behavior "from a wiring diagram," which must be accomplished if we are to gain understanding of the brain.

Richard Axel probes the mechanism of perception, from the bottom up and top down. He asks how the brain "creates its own selective pictures of the world" from different sensory input, which exist as "bits of electrical activity, excitable neurons." Whether for vision, hearing, touch or smell, the brain has receptors that are specific for certain stimuli. Different odors, for example, will activate a different combination of receptors, which will in turn activate specific parts of the brain. When the fruit fly smells banana, one set of neurons fire, and when apple, quite another. The same is true for humans. But the problem of how our brains reconstruct this information in a meaningful way hasn’t been solved. Says Axel, "Perception is only a hypothesis, a best guess that never truly approaches reality." Since "the brain does not have eyes," wonders Axel, "who reads the map?"

Susumu Tonegawa has received the highest honors for his work, including the 1987 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He is the Director, Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and Picower Professor of Biology and Neuroscience, Departments of Biology and Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

Sydney Brenner received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2002. He is Distinguished Professor, Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

Richard Axel was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2004, with Linda Buck. He is University Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Columbia University.

Susumu Tonegawa, Sydney Brenner, Richard Axel
Vision of the Future (Part 1)
(Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT World)
Date accessed: 2009-02-24
License: Not applicable

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