The goal is to create a digital archive of the brains of major taxa. The Digital Brain Ark will be more than a collection of structural MRIs. The Ark will contain three-dimensional reconstructions of the white-matter pathways of each taxon. The data will be in sufficient detail such that researchers can virtually probe how regions are connected to each other and therefore answer questions about brain evolution, or how brain structure is related to species-specific attributes like predator/prey, ecological niche, foraging strategies, and sexual dimorphisms.

3D rendering of white matter pathways of a dolphin brain

To create a Digital Brain Ark, we will need to assemble a consortium of scientists with access to MRI facilities, and zoos and animal parks with brain specimens. Because MRI is non-invasive, there is no need to cut into any specimen. And, once scanned, specimens will be returned to their place of origin. Although we have scanned specimens more than a decade old (and even some more than a century old!), fresher is better. Therefore, the consortium will also establish an alert network for the preservation and scanning of the brains of animals upon their death.

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