The University of Minnesota has won a $5.5 million federal grant to study the brain functions of hundreds of healthy adults, mainly twins, as one of the lead organizations in a national project to better understand the workings of the brain.

The university is one of nine research centers collaborating on a $30 million study called "The Human Connectome Project" that scientists hope will lead to better ways of diagnosing and treating brain disorders.

As part of the project, the university will use one of the most powerful magnetic resonance machines in the world -- a 10.5 Tesla MRI -- to study the brain functions of fraternal and identical twins and their siblings, according to the National Institutes of Health, which is sponsoring the research.

One of the goals is to uncover the role of genes and environment in shaping the brain's circuitry.

The project will be run by Kamil Ugurbil, director of the university's Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, and Dr. David Van Essen at Washington University in St. Louis. In all, the centers plan to study 1,200 healthy volunteers from 300 families.

"We're planning a concerted attack on one of the great scientific challenges of the 21st century," Van Essen said. He said it could pave the way "toward a detailed understanding of how our brain circuitry changes as we age and how it differs in psychiatric and neurologic illness."