from the a-friend-like-ben dept.
An optogenetics technique has been used to activate mouse neurons associated with predatory behavior:
With a flash of light, researchers have induced mice to pounce on anything in their line of sight. Researchers from Yale University and the University of São Paulo isolated the regions of the mouse brain that control both hunting and biting, and say they can activate the neurons involved on command. The research should help illuminate another small part of the neural pathways that connect the outside world to our internal computations.
In this case, the researchers were interested in the link between an outside stimulus — like seeing a delicious cricket — and an action, such as pouncing on said cricket. Their research [open, DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2016.12.027] [DX], published Thursday in Cell, looks at the second part of that question. The researchers used a technique called optogenetics to empirically test the findings of a previous paper that described mouse brain regions involved in predatory behavior. They implanted genetic material from light-sensitive algae into neurons that control hunting and biting, and used flashes of laser light to stimulate them.
The results were convincing: When target regions were activated, the mice pounced without a second thought, following their predatory instincts. When the laser turned off, the mice returned to normal behavior. And the mice didn't limit their attacks to prey: When the kill switch was activated, they attacked sticks and bottle caps as well.
Researchers have created a protein that breaks into two pieces when exposed to light:
Researchers at the University of Alberta have developed a new method of controlling biology at the cellular level using light. The tool -- called a photocleavable protein -- breaks into two pieces when exposed to light, allowing scientists to study and manipulate activity inside cells in new and different ways.
First, scientists use the photocleavable protein to link cellular proteins to inhibitors, preventing the cellular proteins from performing their usual function. This process is known as caging. "By shining light into the cell, we can cause the photocleavable protein to break, removing the inhibitor and uncaging the protein within the cell," said lead author Robert Campbell, professor in the Department of Chemistry. Once the protein is uncaged, it can start to perform its normal function inside the cell. The tool is relatively easy to use and widely applicable for other research that involves controlling processes inside a cell.
Optogenetic control with a photocleavable protein, PhoCl (DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.4222) (DX)
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