Researchers discover each individual has unique brain

Credit: Paola Mathus/ Credit: Paola Mathus/

Everyone is unique, and science has confirmed this. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University successfully mapped nearly 700 human brains, finding that they all are unique from each other. The study, published last month in PLOS Computational Biology, was conducted by assistant professor of neuroscience and first-author Fang-Cheng Yeh.

The researchers generated these maps, called connectomes, and found that they are distinct from person-to-person, so much so that they were used to identify individuals at nearly 100 percent accuracy.

Researchers could even tell identical twins apart; in a Carnegie Mellon University press release, it was revealed that “Identical twins only share about 12 percent of structural connectivity patterns” in common. Timothy Verstynen, an assistant professor of psychology and co-author of the study, noted that “this confirms some things that we’ve always assumed in neuroscience — that connectivity patterns in your brain are unique to you.”

In fact, an individual’s connectivity patterns over time are different. A connectome changes at a rate of 13 percent over a 100-day period, meaning daily experiences actively alter physical white-matter networks in the brain — a biological phenomenon known as plasticity.

In the research study, brains were mapped using diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (DW-MRI) — a version of the MRI scan that monitors the diffusion of water molecules and other liquids within tissue in order to generate highly detailed images of the brain. An MRI scan works by creating a magnetic field, then detecting resultant radio frequencies emitted by hydrogen atoms, mostly located in bodily lipids and water. As water molecules interact with white matter — the pale tissue within the brain consisting mostly of nerve fibers — a precise map of the brain’s neural network, called a local connectome, is generated.

This discovery offers far more than a novel method of tracking identity. The flood gates of  formerly speculative research fields have been opened.

“Realistically, we would hope that this could be used to better understand how subtle differences in the brain’s wiring can predict certain behaviors and (eventually) clinical pathologies,” said Verstynen in an article by The Huffington Post.

Researchers now have the material opportunity to effectively observe the changes in the brain that cause afflictions such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease — an arduous feat without DM-MRI technology. Personal identification using this technology is not ruled out for the future. At the moment, however, it is far too expensive, cumbersome, and slow to use it for such a purpose.

This research was funded by the U.S.’s Army Research Laboratory. Alongside Yeh and Verstynen, the research was co-authored by Jean M. Vettel of the Army Research Laboratory; Aarti Singh and Barnabas Poczos, associate professors of machine learning at Carnegie Mellon; Scott T. Grafton of the University of California, Santa Barbara; Kirk I. Erickson of the University of Pittsburgh; and Wen-Yih I. Tseng of the National Taiwan University.

The brain is inexplicably complex, and is arguably the least understood organ in the body. This research demystifies the elusive organ ever so slightly, allowing science to pick at the mind. Moreover, it confirms what has always been known — everyone has a unique mind.