A few nice Computer News images I found:
Neuromancer Ed Boyden visits Stanford Medicine & controls a GM-mouse with an optical brain tap
Image by jurvetson
Ed Boyden, the MIT optogenetics pioneer has developed robotic probes that slowly slide multiple glass needles into the brain with electrical feedback to intercept neuronal cell bodies, and then apply a bit of suction to integrate with the bio-electro-chemistry within.
Opto-energetics: our eyes have complex stacks to covalently recycle rhodopsins, whereas the algae and halophilic prokaryotes have closed cycles that return to where they started. These proteins allow for precise light-triggered events; they go through conformational change within 1 picosecond of the first photon.
We are now in the fourth generation of molecules, shifting the wavelength to red, which penetrates tissue further since it’s not absorbed by hemoglobin (as you can see by pressing a red laser pointer against a fingertip versus green). They found these light-driven proton pumps in algae that grow in Antarctica.
They use a virus to place these light-sensitive proteins in the neurons of mouse, and then externally trigger it with red light from outside the skin to inhibit or excite a neuronal response.
They can make a mouse go to sleep, and then wake it up from external control. They can induce behavior in the mouse, which thinks it is moving freely but actually has its skull clamped in a VR rig with a treadmill below and oculus rift, rodent style. They have controlled the behavior of a primate.
They can restore light-sensitivity to the retinas of three blind mice. We saw how they swim the water maze as if sighted. (Nature)
They can also image the “dynanome” — the sequence of firings in C.elegans for example, the only organism with a complete connectome (so far), where all 302 neurons and 6k synapses have been mapped. They can take video of the firing patterns to understand how a wiring diagram leads to a firing pattern. (Nature Methods)
They are experimenting with capturing a record of neuronal firing in DNA itself, by spiking calcium levels, which alters polymerase function. “We can equip every neuron with its own hard drive.”
Ultimately, a neural computer. From his Synthetic Neurobiology site: “The brain is incredibly complex – each cubic millimeter of your brain contains perhaps a hundred thousand cells, connected by a billion synapses, each operating with millisecond precision.”
Image by modenadude
Kristen Steach, probably the nicest person you’ll ever meet… and couldn’t go a second without giggling on camera 🙂