The Starburst Challenge is Complete

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Over the past year thousands of EyeWirers have passed the advanced Starburst Challenge, unlocking the ability to play difficult starburst amacrine neurons for double points. Last week after we completed Starburst 239, no more challenge cells were added. Why?  Eyewire has a new goal: to map ALL of the cells in a specific area of our data set.

From now on, the Starburst Challenge will be replaced by the Lightning Level Challenge. Completing this new Challenge will unlock all “Level 2” cells.  These will include some starbursts but also extra difficult mystery cells.

How does HQ identify starbursts?

Jinseop, EyeWire’s lead postdoctoral researcher, identifies neurons of interest by looking at location and soma (cell body) size. He and the gamemasters next map out some branches to reveal more details. This is how we know which cells belong in the starburst challenge and which are mystery cells.

EyeWire neurons are found in the retina, which is made of multiple layers. Our dataset covers 2 layers of cell bodies (somas) and one layer of branches, as you can see below. Starbursts are found in both layers.

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A neuron sandwich: cell bodies above (Ganglion Cell Layer) and below (Inner Nuclear Layer) with branches in the middle (Inner Plexiform Layer).

The Starburst Challenge focused on mapping starbursts in 2 subregions within the branches of our dataset: the ON zone and OFF zone. Starbursts have branches in only one of these areas. Their branches are stimulated when light, detected and related by photoreceptors, either turns on or off.

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We picked out 115 starbursts of scientific interest.  Knowing the structure and synapses of these cells allows us to decipher how the retina processes visual stimuli and relays it to the brain down the optic nerve. It will also help us identify Mystery Cells. There are more starbursts; however, from now on we’ll focus on mapping all the cells in a selected volume of the dataset. More on that later.

Among the starbursts completed in EyeWire, 80 have branches in the OFF layer and 77 have branches in the ON layer. As of writing this post, 6 neurons await classification. 34 starbursts are found in the INL (Inner Nuclear Layer) and 80 are found in the GCL (Ganglion Cell Layer). Knowing the structure of these cells is enough for us to infer connectivity for other cells of the same type, which means we don’t need to map more starbursts as we used to.

What’s Next

We’re out to make the world’s first catalog of retinal neurons. This means we’ll map all the cells in a specific part of our dataset – the Ganglion Cell Layer. These cells will be classified by HQ with the help of Scouts and Scythes into the Beginner Mystery Level or Advanced Lightning Level. Level 2 cells will be worth double points. More information on these new levels soon.

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