Light Work

Understanding more about the human brain’s estimated 100 billion interconnected nerve cells, or neurons, could help us develop new treatments for disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, autism, schizophrenia and epilepsy. One method of investigating brain activity is to genetically engineer an animal, such as a mouse, so that its neurons produce a light-sensitive protein, opsin. Neuron activity can then be triggered by shining light on the brain, once it’s exposed in the anaesthetised animal. The computer simulation here illustrates a light beam hitting clusters of opsin on a neuron surface. The resulting nerve signals can be detected in connected neurons by inserting tiny probes to measure the electrical and genetic activity inside them. Scientists have recently developed a computer-guided robotic arm to insert the probes with greater accuracy than previously possible.

Written by Mick Warwicker

  • Ed Boyden
  • MIT McGovern Institute and Sputnik Animation

TED Talk: Gero Miesenboeck reengineers a brain

I used to want to be a neurologist so badly. This is why. 

“Somewhere in pattern like this, there is you. Your perceptions, your emotions, your memories, your plans for the future. But we don’t know where, since we don’t know how to read the patter. We don’t understand the code used by the brain. To make progress, we need to break the code. But how?”