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Light Helps Injured Mice Walk Again 92

Mantrid42 writes "Researchers have been able to affect the brains of lab mice using light. Working in a new field called Optogenetics (optical stimulation plus genetic engineering), scientists injected lab mice with genes that can stimulate or inhibit neural activity based on the color of the light they're exposed to, and can be targeted to infect only on certain cell types. Additionally, another gene has been added to make neurons glow green when firing, allowing two-way communication between a brain and a machine."
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Light Helps Injured Mice Walk Again

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  • :O (Score:5, Funny)

    by DirtyCanuck ( 1529753 ) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @09:49PM (#29831125)

    Does that make them..... Optical Mice?

  • The operation is a real breakthrough for crippled mice everywhere, but they have to avoid kaleidoscopes for the rest of their lives...
  • Additionally, another gene has been added to make neurons glow green when firing, allowing two-way communication between a brain and a machine."

    I know that changes to genes generally have to go into the cells when they are growing, but I wonder if the mechanism which does this could be manually installed in the nervous system (so to speak) so that living organisms (me) could export their brain activity as pulses of green light.

    • Re:Retrofit (Score:5, Informative)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @10:37PM (#29831363) Journal
      In principle, at any rate, it should be. Viruses are constantly hot-patching cells to modify their behavior, that is how they survive and multiply. A suitably modified virus could presumably be made to carry this particular payload. Not something you'd want to use prior to extensive testing(injecting viruses into someone's brain not being an obviously safe procedure); but it isn't implausible.
    • Re:Retrofit (Score:5, Informative)

      by reverseengineer ( 580922 ) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @10:56PM (#29831449)
      Actually, most forms of gene therapy don't require growing cells to work. If you use a virus to carry the genes of interest into the cell, your cell will read the inserted DNA just as if it were your own. There are two routes you can go with viral vectors. You can use a retrovirus, which will actually insert genes into your permanent genome, which will cause those genes to be copied and passed on if the infected cells divide. Or you can use adenoviruses or adeno-associated viruses, which can give genes to infected cells, but those genes will not be passed on. The retroviral approach carries added risks of inserting genes in the wrong places (causing some cases of leukemia in clinical trials), and having genes pass to dividing cells is of little benefit if you want to infect the neurons of an adult brain.

      Of course, adeno-type viruses (either a weakened or non-pathogenic strain is used) are not without risk, particularly if you're planning to use them to infect your brain- meningitis seems like it'd be a real concern here. Right now, viral vector gene therapy is at the level of being an early experimental treatment for conditions like cancers and inherited immunodeficiencies- making your thoughts produce light would be a very off-label use.
    • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) *

      If you'd bother to read the article you'd discover that's exactly what they're doing.

      I recommend it, it's a good read.

    • by British ( 51765 )

      So scientists just invented the mouse version of Green Lantern?

    • If what the mouse is seeing shows as a surface in the brain, then we have a green screen.

      Would dreaming show as mouse cartoons?

  • What a neat idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheCouchPotatoFamine ( 628797 ) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @10:04PM (#29831185)
    what a neat idea this and a laser at the right wavelengths(s) could manipulate a transparent surface of connected neurons very nicely, and like multi layer dvd technology, they could probably stack the layers. never heard of anything like this before.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by zippthorne ( 748122 )

      Are you suggesting creating some kind of mouse neuron ASIC?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        yes in a way.. here's what i'm pondering. ounce for ounce, heat generated, how does the metabolism of a group of neurons stack up against computational elements taking the same space? Could you use the self orgainzing properties of neurons grown on a lab on a chip to connect in just the right way? Neurons are "better" at finding real world thresholds then there purely mathematical counterparts; i might say, more stable to me. Probably because they employ more then one method of signaling and collecting inte
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      ...and all the recent micro-fluidic lab-on-a-chip research could be the substrate that keeps the neurons alive. a Neuron Cube Computer. What is really neat is that it is the *computer* that can by reading the firing of one level, provide inputs to the next, completely controlling propagation of learning. Just thought i'd post that bit of dreaming too.
    • by Wargames ( 91725 )
      Now if we can get these lights to emit coherent low-divergence beams and infect sharks' heads...
  • This puts a lot of sense into the phrase "he is a bright person". Literally when you do a lot of thinking, your brain will shine.

  • Could this then actually lead to the 'chip in the brain' concept and create a human/robot hybrid? This is getting into some scary territory...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by cjfs ( 1253208 )

      This is getting into some scary territory...

      It's a little disorienting at first, but after a few segfaults and cold boots you get used to it.

      • by Vovk ( 1350125 )
        just don't download any DRMed software into your brain and WHATEVER you do, don't install windows!
      • ...and just grit your teeth and think happy thoughts when your doctor approaches you with a USB stick.

    • What's so frightening about a mind-machine interface? I've dreamed of breakthroughs like this most of my life!

      To be able to replace parts of my body just as easily as I can swap out a part on a car or a computer, the power to build a better human... Just imagine if they could develop this effectively enough that you could literally link your mind to another, or to a machine, to the net! Both the practical applications and the philosophical implications are staggering.

  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <> on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @10:55PM (#29831445) Homepage Journal

    This is the DNI we've been waiting for... The surgeon pops open your skull, injects some strategic locations with some gene altering viruses and installs some flashing lights. Now you can do two-way communication with a computer. What you experience depends on which cells were modified, and what program you're running. With sufficient funding for targeted research, we could see this technology in new kinds of: cochlear implants for the deaf, vision implants for the blind, artificial limb control and feeling for amputees.. and the continued improvement of those technologies will eventually lead to full sensation virtual reality immersion for anyone who can afford it. And we haven't even gotten into the gritty details of what we can learn about the brain using this technology.. reverse engineering is so much easier when you can poke as well as peek.

    • by mkiwi ( 585287 ) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @11:20PM (#29831561)

      Oh *please*

      Your over-optimistic attitude completely misses something that every slashdotter knows: The machines will eventually take control of our bodies, become our overlords, and turn us into bionic batteries. Keeanu Reeves will then be forced to die in a desperate plea to save humanity... just as it should be.

      Either that or super-intelligent mice will take over the world.

      We don't have room for positive attitudes here.

      • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) *

        or intelligent conversation it seems.

      • When a computer-generated life-form shows more emotions, you know it must be... Keanu Reeves. ^^

      • The machines will eventually take control of our bodies, become our overlords, and turn us into bionic batteries. Keeanu Reeves will then be forced to die in a desperate plea to save humanity...

        In fact, forget machines taking control of our bodies, becoming our overlords, and turning us into bionic batteries...

      • Either that or super-intelligent mice will take over the world.


    • we could see this technology in new kinds of: cochlear implants for the deaf, vision implants for the blind, artificial limb control and feeling for amputees..

      Yeah, but only _after_ it's available for interactive porn.

    • I think that moved was called 'The Matrix', I'll pass, the ending sucked.

    • One thing ... with regular electro-stimulation than you have to have your skull popped open. With this you only need a hole drilled into your skull. That is when the device is made by lab techs. I believe we can shrink this device (for emitting the light) to something similar to an rfid chip. If the light is intense enough it could be injected. Making it much much less invasive. Some wireless power system would be necessary that's about it. Hell inject it trough the nose and have a plug dangling out for cha
      • I think it would be a lot better to find a technology to bring fiberoptic strands to the proper locations in the brain, and to generate the light with an external module. Then it could be worn or not worn, upgraded without surgery, et cetera. I'm deathly afraid of having a computer implanted in my body that controls any of my senses to any degree, because of the potential for hacking.

        • The computer could be external, ie attached through the nose. But more likely it will be permanent and the functionality fixed. The Parkinson application example would flip the switch a few minutes an hour at a constant rate. No need for an external computer. If we need something more complicated then you could have feedback to the device as well (but here fiber optics would likely be needed). Completely without external changes. I do think the cooler setup would be a port in the side of the head. This woul
    • ...aaaand we're in Clippy land...

      "Hi - it seems you are thinking naughty thoughts of sexy ladies. Do you want me to..."

    • Um, I'll wait until the "pop open your skull" part has been engineered away.

      Really, there's no "just" about that process.

  • I mostly love this article, but it kinda glosses over how much more difficult it is to read out information out optically than it is to stimulate neurons with light. When you stimulate neurons you just need any ole photon, doesn't matter how many times it bounced around, or where it came from.. which is good because the brain isn't so much transparent, its kinda a milky haze. However, when you want to record optically from them you have to make an image of the neurons (unless you want all the neurons sign
  • when you're injured.

  • oh noes, now doctors will say WALK TOWARDS THE LIGHT!
  • by Idiomatick ( 976696 ) on Wednesday October 21, 2009 @11:46PM (#29831679)
    Most amazing piece I've read on science in a long time. This makes the genome projects look like stepping stones. If you read the whole thing and can't see the amazing power of this field you will hopefully be one of the early benefactors because you need it.
    • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) *

      wow, you and I seem to be the only two who read it.

      This is how bad Slashdot has gotten.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Idiomatick ( 976696 )
        You might also like an early /. article on optogenetics. It is quite amazing how new this science is. I mean look at the wikipedia article on it.

        An interview on the piece above... interviewer is a bit daft but the researched speaks volumes.

        The /. conversation in that topic is even more pitiful, most of them complaining about perceived faults, things that were WELL addressed in the article.
    • Thanks for the heads up, amazing read.

    • I read the article, it's very well written, and what an *amazing* breakthrough! It's interesting how many major scientific breakthroughs were also very clever plot devices in science fiction in the past few decades.

  • Typo in tfa url and in the summary. Optigenetics?? wth is that supposed to mean? I must be blind I'll go see an optimitrist ~_~
    • by selven ( 1556643 )

      it's quite obvious.

      Opti = optimum = best
      gene = gene
      ticks = blood sucking creatures

      Clearly they're using genetic engineering to optimize the reproduction and destructive power of insects.

  • The blind mice ran after the farmer's wife and got their tails cut off with a carving knife.

    So we have mice that can see but can't run ... that is just the way things should be. What do they do? They get them running, and you know how this ends.

    • The farmer won't dare cut off the tails of mice with frikkin lasers attached to their heads -- especially ill-tempered manic depressive mice!

  • ..... Corp announces its latest TV screen technology. The screens, driven by photon emitting mouse brains have higher contrast and a greater viewing angle than existing OLED or OLEP screens. Furthermore, the new screens are environmentally friendly being powered only by cheese and 100% biodegradable. Dead mice are replaced easily and cheaply. The new NeuroVision screens are expected to hit the market as soon as problems with the Cat Repulsion Technology (CRT) have been ironed out.
  • Step into the light, little mouse. What? No wait!
  • A potential issue I didn't see addressed in the article - crosstalk. What happens when an outbound signal, neuronal activity triggering a light pulse, is produced at the same wavelength (color) as another is tweaked to "listen" for? Would the brain be able to compensate and filter out such signals, as this essentially creates a form of an artificial permanent link between the two? Or maybe this isn't an issue beyond, say a few hundred microns, because the energy of the outgoing photons is below the sensitiv

    • That in interesting question. With the right tweaks, optimistically thinking, you might get optical communication between far away neurons to work. Wonder if it would be faster than the chemoelectronic one? Anyway, the first thing I'd try to do with such a brain-computer uplink would be to try and connect google to it.

  • Christopher Reeve will finally be able to walk again. He should be good in the new remakes of several popular films, such as "The Night of the Living Dead".

  • ...but I'm not looking forward to the day when a few light pulses can alter human behavior. Just think about that.

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