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Optogenetics and Bio-luminescence

I was watching Ed Boydens TED speech, A Light Switch for Neurons, and have a question/suggestion concerning how to deliver light to the brain. Attaching optical fibers seems to be the least exacting aspect of this research. If one can use gene vectors such as viruses to deliver instructions for neurons to develop proteins that react to light, it seems reasonable to assume that one could also insert genes to produce light? There are many organisms that exhibit bioluminescence. Inserting genes for bioluminescence could allow for a much more precise delivery of light to specific neurons than using optical fibers.

Any thoughts?

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  • Jun 21 2011: Well considering that the rest of the brain would not be largely affected by the added light, there should be very little or no side effects. Also, is there much reason for finding a more efficient way of applying light to these modified craniums other than optic fibers? Because in any case the light would have to be used in special therapies only, and it would be difficult to isolate a certain wavelength that is so rare in nature that it would not randomly appear and interact with these photoreceptive neurons. And if they are used in isolated sessions, invasive adjustments are unnecessary for the most part. I suppose that in some extreme cases there could be some way of reconstructing human membranes and skulls to let in certain wavelengths more than others, in the way that water columns filter out certain wavelengths and allow many deep-sea aquatic creatures to take advantage of the lack of certain colors. Aerogel, or clear aluminae seem to be excellent space-age materials to take on such a job, being both extremely tough and largely see-through, but I'm sure there are many more materials which could be far more well-suited, I just don't know of many. Obviously, this is a pretty simple and head-on approach to such a problem, but I hardly think it's necessary in the first place so its use would be quite rare.
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    May 22 2011: I wish somebody would give me access to a gene splicer and some brains!
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    May 22 2011: How would you control the light then? Having a constant on would be just as problematic as having no vision. Could there be a bio-luminescent 'filament' type nerve ending? This way a camera could send a signal of what one needs illuminated.
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      May 22 2011: the great thing about genetic programing is that you can make the proteins react to what you want, the bio-luminescent proteins could be activated by a number of triggers from chemical signals to electrical stimulation. for instance in the faulty neurons that cause seizures, the bio-luminesces could be made to react to the hay-wire electrical signals that go cascading through the brain, once those signals reach a certain frequency or pitch the proteins kick in and start glowing causing the optogenetically programed ones to react and shutting down the neurons that are affected. Also each neuron can be targeted and associated with a different spectrum of luminance and entire grids could be built and assembled. this technique could be very useful for mapping the entire brain as each group of neurons could be targeted and fired by remote using chemical triggers or even sound frequencies.
      The obvious hurdles that I see are being able to produce enough light or the right type of light or what reactions/side effects take place with the introduction of the new light.
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        May 22 2011: You are thinking of the application much broader then I. I was more thinking a way to allow the blind to see. That is where the electrical impulse would come in handy.
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          May 22 2011: did you watch the talk by Boyden? They showed some very promising results for restoring and even building sight in the eye. The use of electrical stimulation was not necessary as they just inserted vectors programed to stimulate the growth of cell "cameras".
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    May 22 2011: I recently read an article on bioluminescense - I think it was in the Economist Technology Quarterly. I don't know about work on the brain but they have created a bioluminescent dog and are working on trees that could serve as street lights.
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      May 22 2011: Bioluminescence has been a very popular tinker toy for genetic-engineers. monkeys, rats, pigs, dogs, sheep, bacteria, many things have been made to glow for various reasons. That is another reason that I suggest this concept, its already been played around with a lot and people know how to manipulate this trait fairly well.