What would a synthetic connectome look like?

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A major challenge of contemporary neuroscience is to unravel the structure of the connectome, the ensemble of neural connections that link between different functional units of the brain, and to reveal how this structure relates to brain function. This thriving area of research largely follows the general tradition in biology of reverse-engineering, which consists of first observing and characterizing a biological system or process, and then deconstructing it into its fundamental building blocks in order to infer its modes of operation. However, a complementary form of biology has emerged, synthetic biology, which emphasizes construction-based forward-engineering. The synthetic biology approach comprises the assembly of new biological systems out of elementary biological parts. The rationale is that the act of building a system can be a powerful method for gaining deep understanding of how that system works. As the fields of connectomics and synthetic biology are independently growing, I propose to consider the benefits of combining the two, to create synthetic connectomics, a new form of neuroscience and a new form of synthetic biology. The goal of synthetic connectomics would be to artificially design and construct the connectomes of live behaving organisms. Synthetic connectomics could serve as a unifying platform for unraveling the complexities of brain operation and perhaps also for generating new forms of artificial life, and, in general, could provide a valuable opportunity for empirically exploring theoretical predictions about network function. What would a synthetic connectome look like? What purposes would it serve? How could it be constructed? This review delineates the novel notion of a synthetic connectome and aims to lay out the initial steps towards its implementation, contemplating its impact on science and society.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalPhysics of Life Reviews
StatePublished - Jul 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier B.V.


  • Artificial life
  • Brain structure-function
  • Complexity
  • Connectome
  • Network science
  • Synthetic biology


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