Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Oct 2, 2012 in Science |

Manipulating neurons with light worms

Manipulating neurons with light worms

New research has been able to genetically modify the worm Caenorhabditis elegans neurons to respond to light pulses. Thus, with simple flash, move the animal at will. The apparatus required to achieve it is extremely complex.

Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) is an old acquaintance. We know your full connectome: its 302 neurons and synapses nearly 7,000. We know its genome. It is one of the favorite animals for research in many areas of biology and neuroscience.

The team led by Sharad Ramanathan has published an article in Nature in which he describes how they are able to manipulate the worm neurons. It’s actually an extension of a time doing work they. In the past they were able to lay eggs or give advance or stop. Now they can direct their movement toward a nonexistent food.

The experiment is based on the optogenetics . This fabulous technique involves genetically manipulating some neurons. On one side is inserted a gene that makes the neuron becomes fluorescent when excited. Can also enter a different gene that causes the neuron to be excited when light is pulsed. Because the worm is transparent, all this is possible.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the experiment is that the worm moves in freedom while being manipulated. And only excites the neuron we want.

If we can understand a relatively simple nervous system to the point of complete control, means we have possibility to come to understand more complex systems

The results provide a good framework for understanding the neural circuits, how to handle and what activity patterns play in them

So far, to understand the function of a neuron or a group of them, had to remove it or studying a mutant that lacked them and see what the animal was not doing.

The question we wanted to answer was: instead of breaking the system to understand it, we can hack key neurons are sufficient to control the behavior and use them to force the animal to do what we want?

Manipulating neurons with light worms image 2

The system is very complex to achieve. The animal moves freely, is very small and several neurons are packed close together in the head. So you have to get moving video, process images, identify the neuron, follow the animal, position the laser and shoot a particular neuron. All within 20 milliseconds.

The result was enough to handle a pair of interneurons to guide the animal’s behavior.

Optogenetics is a dazzling technique that has just begun to show the results of which will be capable of.

Tags: , ,