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Optogenetics

Researchers have shown that that exposure to one color of light can increase pain sensitiv...

In research that could lead to improved treatment of chronic and debilitating pain conditions, scientists at Stanford Bio-X have shown that pain sensitivity in genetically modified mice can be altered by shining different colors of light on their paws.  Read More

MIT neuroscientists identified the cells (highlighted in red) where memory traces are stor...

An ongoing collaboration between the Japanese Riken Brain Science Institute and MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory has resulted in the discovery of how to plant specific false memories into the brains of mice. The breakthrough significantly extends our understanding of memory and expands the experimental reach of the new field of optogenetics.  Read More

The lights themselves can be as small as single cells, and are printed onto the end of a f...

Optogenetics is the process by which genetically-programmed neurons or other cells can be activated by subjecting them to light. Among other things, the technology helps scientists understand how the brain works, which could in turn lead to new treatments for brain disorders. Presently, fiber optic cables must be wired into the brains of test animals in order to deliver light to the desired regions. That may be about to change, however, as scientists have created tiny LEDs that can be injected into the brain.  Read More

Muscle cell undergoing light activation (Image: MIT)

In Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s 1972 novel Rendezvous with Rama, the explorers of a seemingly deserted alien spaceship passing through our Solar System encounter a strange three-legged creature that turns out to be an organic robot. In the ‘70s, this seemed so incredible that it could only be the product of an alien civilization thousands of years ahead of us. In 2012, scientists at MIT and the University of Pennsylvania are proving otherwise by starting work on organic robots here on Earth. Using genetically engineered muscle tissue that responds to light, they are blurring the line between animal and machine at the cellular level.  Read More

Researchers have stimulated specific neurons using light impulses  (Image: Shutterstock)

We've all been there. Your monkey is throwing a fit, jumping on the furniture, screeching like a furry banshee and hurling unmentionable things all over the place. At times like this, wouldn't it be great if you could just shine a light and control the monkey’s brain? Sorry, that isn’t possible (yet), but researchers have succeeded in stimulating a monkey’s brain with a remarkable level of precision using impulses of light aimed at specific kinds of neural cells. It may not be much help to desperate monkey owners, but it does provide hope of new treatments for sufferers of many neurological disorders.  Read More

Scientists have developed heart tissue that contracts when exposed to light, which could p...

There's no denying that pacemakers are life-saving devices, but they do have their limitations. These include the facts that their metal leads can break, they need to be surgically accessed if their batteries run out, and they can be disrupted by strong magnetic fields. Some or all of these problems may one day become things of the past, however, due to research currently being conducted at New York's Stony Brook University - scientists there are working towards the development of pacemakers that control the heart through pulses of light.  Read More

Georgia Tech graduate student Jeffrey Stirman, School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineeri...

Genetically engineered remote controlled animals ... what the? Using inexpensive and widely available technology combined with the latest techniques in optogenetics, researchers at Georgia Tech have created exactly that. Optogenetics is a mix of optical and genetic techniques that has allowed scientists to gain control over brain circuits in laboratory animals. Mary Shelly would be proud – or totally freaked out. But don't expect remote controlled poodles or parrots in your nearest pet store by Christmas, this might be a few years off.  Read More

'Optical cuffs' been used to stimulate muscle movements in mice (Photo: Rama)

In a study that could eventually restore movement to humans’ paralyzed limbs, researchers at California’s Stanford University have used light to induce muscle contractions in mice. A gene derived from algae was inserted into the mice, encoding a light-sensitive protein which adhered to their nerve cell surfaces. Scientists then placed an “optical cuff” lined with tiny, inwards-facing LEDs around the mice’s sciatic nerves. By penetrating those nerves with brief, high-intensity bursts of blue light, they were able to produce muscle contractions similar to those that would occur naturally. The technology is called “optogenetics.”  Read More

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