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 Remote control brains: a neuroscience revolution

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Date posted: 30/07/2007

In a laboratory the University of Frankfurt, in Germany, a tiny worm dances to flashes of light. A flash of yellow and it darts forward. A flash of blue and it jerks back. Yellow, forward, blue, back - right on cue every time.

The worm is a natural creature, no wiring or electronics, but flesh and blood. It is in the vanguard of a revolution in brain science, a technology that allows scientists to turn individual brain cells on and off at will.

The worm is not a toy or a robot but a living creature. The worm?s brain has been reconditioned, no, reengineered so that its nerves and muscles can be controlled with light. With each flash of blue its neurons fire electric pulses, causing the muscles they control to clench. A flash of yellow stops the nerves firing, relaxing the worm's muscles and lengthening its body once again.

"It's really changing the whole field of neuroscience," says the worm's developer, neurobiologist Alexander Gottschalk at the University of Frankfurt.

The technology could lead to spectacular advances in basic neuroscience, allowing researchers to tease apart the neural circuits that control everything from reflexes to consciousness with unprecedented accuracy. "We'll be able to understand how specific cell types in the brain give rise to fuzzy concepts like hope and motivation," predicts Karl Deisseroth, a psychiatrist at Stanford University in California, who is spearheading some of the work.

See the full Story via external site: www.newscientist.com

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