A research team made up of experts in genetic engineering, nanotechnology and electrical engineering has demonstrated a wireless technology that can control specific brain circuits in a fly’s brain in less than a second, according to a study published in the journal Science. makes it possible. nature material.
How did they hack into the minds of flies?
The team, led by neuroengineers at Rice University, for the first time created flies genetically engineered to express a specific heat-sensitive ion channel that, when activated, caused the insects to spread their wings.
The scientists then injected the hacked flies’ brains with a heat trigger: magnetic iron oxide nanoparticles, which heat up rapidly in the presence of a magnetic charge. Next, by turning on a magnetic field, the scientists succeeded in heating those iron oxide nanoparticles and, in turn, those feather-specific, heat-sensitive ions.
Analyzing the videos of the experiments, the researchers also found that the time between the activation of the electromagnet and the opening of the wings was less than half a second.
Development of direct brain-machine communication technology
Scientists believe this ability to activate cells precisely will be useful in studying the brain, developing brain communication technology, treating neurological disorders, and developing direct brain-machine communication technology.
“To study the brain or treat neurological disorders, the scientific community is looking for tools that are incredibly accurate but also minimally invasive,” said study author Jacob Robinson, Electrical and Computer Science at Rice. An associate professor of engineering and member of Research Initiative. Rice Neuroengineering, in a press release.
“The remote control of certain neural circuits using magnetic fields is a kind of holy grail for neurotechnology. Our work is an important step towards that goal because it increases the speed of a magnetic remote control, bringing it closer to the brain’s natural motion.” brings.”
The team is focused on developing a technology that helps restore vision in people even when their eyes don’t work. It aims to achieve this by stimulating the parts of the brain associated with vision to deliver the sensation of vision in the absence of functional eyes.
Wireless headphones and communication between the brain
Robinson is also the principal investigator of the US military’s DARPA-funded project MOANA. MOANA, short for “Magnetic, Optical and Acoustic Neural Access”, is currently working on creating wireless headsets, which facilitate communication between brains by non-surgical means.
If all went well, the Moana headset would be able to decode the neurons in one person’s brain and download that information into the brain of another. However, Robinson says the goal is still far away.
“To get the brain’s natural accuracy, we probably have to get a response of a few hundredths of a second,” he continued. “So there is still a long way to go.” (yo)