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posted by mrpg on Friday January 13, @08:20AM   Printer-friendly
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.

Also at NPR, Science Magazine, and The Guardian.


Original Submission

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New Tool for Optogenetics: Photocleavable Proteins 3 comments

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)

Related: With a Better Optogenetic Light Switch, Scientists Can Flip Neurons On and Off
Gene Therapy Human Trial Will Inject Virus Into the Retinas of the Legally Blind
Nerve Stimulation May Recover Memories in Alzheimer's Patients (Mice)
Scientists Test a Way to Erase Scary Memories
Mice Turned Violent by Photoactivation of Amygdala Neurons


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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, @08:46AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, @08:46AM (#453216)

    sticks and bottle caps are really suspicious objects.
    there I am, inside my nice clean sterile cage, far away from any forest, and I see a stick!
    wouldn't you pounce on it?!

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, @08:48AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, @08:48AM (#453218)

      River Tam was brainwashed to believe a gun was a stick.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, @08:47AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, @08:47AM (#453217)

    Sweet, any political dissidents can be turned to terrorism now, completely legitimately too, just look at how violent and dangerous they are.

    • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Friday January 13, @06:57PM

      by bob_super (1357) on Friday January 13, @06:57PM (#453402)

      That's odd, because people wearing helmets tend to shoot more at people protecting their amygdalas from the light by wearing hoodies, turbans and burkas...

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, @09:34AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, @09:34AM (#453224)

    I keep watching the first video and thinking it looks like someone is pulling on the cables...
    http://www.cell.com/cms/attachment/2079779361/2071387255/mmc2.mp4 [cell.com]

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, @09:47AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, @09:47AM (#453226)
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, @03:04PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, @03:04PM (#453324)

        I mean literally, it looks like a light flashes and someone pulls on a cable hooked up to mouse's skull to pull it around the cage. Some of the other videos make it appear that the mouse is about to pounce, then the light turns on. Maybe it is some kind of optical illusion, but if these are the most convincing videos they could get, I am concerned.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, @09:44AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, @09:44AM (#453225)

    my older kid did that without any laser between 6 and 18 months.
    I guess humans have evolved an embedded laser or somethign.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, @12:10PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, @12:10PM (#453251)

      uh oh I think I laser-pranked at the wrong address.

  • (Score: 2) by q.kontinuum on Friday January 13, @11:52AM

    by q.kontinuum (532) on Friday January 13, @11:52AM (#453243) Journal

    The infection is spread by some luminescent bacteria getting by accident to this area of the brain of the first person. The infected will bite the brains of anyone nearby, infecting the same region of the brain on their victims. Bacteria evolved (due to natural selection) to cause victims to bite exactly into the right area of the brain of their victims. Amazon was the first to foresee [theguardian.com] this development...

    --
    Registered IRC nick on chat.soylentnews.org: qkontinuum
  • (Score: 2, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, @01:13PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 13, @01:13PM (#453271)

    With a flash of light, […] they can activate the neurons involved on command. The research should help illuminate another small part of the neural pathways […]

    I see what you did there.

  • (Score: 2) by art guerrilla on Friday January 13, @07:50PM

    by art guerrilla (3082) on Friday January 13, @07:50PM (#453429)

    ...and if you shine one in my face, you better be a piggie, or i am slapping it out of your hand...
    seriously, don't do that...

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by captain_nifty on Friday January 13, @08:28PM

    by captain_nifty (4252) Subscriber Badge on Friday January 13, @08:28PM (#453443)

    The method they used involved genetically engineering the mice so that the neurons in their brains are able to be stimulated directly with light, this is not something that any non-modified organism will do. If they shine a light in your brain (or the brain of any non-modified animal) there will be no effect.

    This type of thing has come up in several similar poorly reported articles on medical research.

    Flip of the switch sounds great for click bait, but it is a lot more involved than that, and the method isn't generally applicable in non-engineered organisms. What it does show is that over-stimulating this area of the brain can cause these types of behaviors, indicating that this part of the brain has something to do with aggression.

    So no scientists didn't learn to make zombies, they just have a better idea of which part of the mouse brain controls aggression.