Among the many areas of scientific research, there is one called optogenetics. In essence, it is a field that combines optics and genetics. And its purpose is to impact, through light, the functioning of certain cells of a living being.
In this specific area of research, a new feat has been achieved by researchers at Osaka Metropolitan University in Japan. By modifying a small worm (one millimeter) called Caenorhabditis elegans and exposing it to light stimuli, they managed to control the behavior of this living being.
Light signals to control the earthworm
According to explanations from Osaka Metropolitan University, the researchers used two light-sensitive proteins called opsins to modify the behavior of earthworms. The first was extracted from mosquitoes and then introduced into the sensory cells of Caenorhabditis elegans which are responsible for flight behavior.
The second opsin, sensitive to ultraviolet rays, was extracted from lampreys, was introduced into the motor neurons of the earthworm. After that, the researchers observed that when exposed to ultraviolet light, the worm froze. Then, when exposed to green light, it moved again.
A stop-start command
“This stop-start behavior was repeated several times, switching between UV and green lights, indicating that the opsin could be switched on and off without destroying the protein”can we also read in the press release of the university.
In essence, after introducing proteins to the earthworm, the researchers succeeded in transforming it into an animal remotely controlled by light: ultraviolet light to stop the worm, and green light to make it move new.
A demo video was posted on the PNAS journal.
If the scientific achievement is impressive, we do not know precisely what this research could be used for. But, according to the university, “Opsins are highly sensitive and can be repeatedly turned on and off, a property highly relevant to many avenues of biological research and the development of targeted drug treatments.”
Cyborg cockroaches already exist
In an effort to use cockroaches to carry out research in the event of natural disasters, other researchers have meanwhile transformed a cockroach into a cyborg. More specifically, they equipped the insect with an electronic device to control its movements, a mini-battery, as well as a mini solar panel for autonomy.