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Brain Control in a Flash of Light

One of the most exciting new tools to be developed in neuroscience in the past decade is called optogenetics. It allows researchers to turn individual neurons in the brain of a living human subject off and on without surgery or other invasive procedures. Researchers around the world are now using it in the hopes of unlocking countless mysteries of how individual neurons work, how they relate to specific behaviors and how they are connected to each other.

Boris Zemelman, a neurobiologist in the Center for Learning and Memory at UT Austin, was part of a team that published a foundational paper in 2002 that demonstrated that the technique could work.

Read more about the development of this technique in the New York Times article titled "Brain Control in a Flash of Light" (April 21, 2014).

Marc Airhart is the Communications Coordinator for the College of Natural Sciences. A long time member of the National Association of Science Writers, he has written for national publications including Scientific American, Mercury, The Earth Scientist, Environmental Engineer & Scientist, and StarDate Magazine. He also spent 11 years as a writer and producer for the Earth & Sky radio series.

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    Lonnie Nichols Wednesday, May 28, 2014

    Might this be a way of "keeping the lights on" in a person clinically dead, but prevented from being brain dead using this procedure? There are of course ways to keep a body in a state of torpor-like living and by keeping the brain from turning to jello, might offer rebirth to some one who has apparently run out of time.

    Also, noticed there was no mention of neurons other than those in the brain... might this procedure hold some way of turning off any genes that could be preventing neurons in the spinal cord from reconnecting after being severed?

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