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.
The researchers are using components from ordinary liquid crystal display (LCD) projectors to control the brain and muscles of tiny organisms, namely worms. Using optogenetics the scientists have genetically manipulated the animals allowing them to stimulate and silence specific neurons and muscles using inexpensive LCD projectors. Red, green and blue lights from the projector activate light-sensitive microbial proteins that are genetically engineered into the worms, allowing the researchers to switch neurons on and off like light bulbs and turn muscles on and off like engines.
The illumination system includes a modified off-the-shelf LCD projector, which is used to cast a multi-color pattern of light onto an animal. The independent red, green and blue channels allow researchers to activate excitable cells sensitive to specific colors, while simultaneously silencing others.
“This illumination instrument significantly enhances our ability to control, alter, observe and investigate how neurons, muscles and circuits ultimately produce behavior in animals,” said Hang Lu, an associate professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.