Lighting up the brain.

A little preamble: This week I wrote a guest post for another neuroscience blog. I talked about one of my favorite topics: optogenetics, the technique to control your neurons by shining a laser on them. Sounds like something Iron Man would do -- but is actually done by scientists in labs all over the world. Read on and enjoy!

In 1979, Nobel laureate Francis Crick mused about how wonderful it would be to find a way to control just one type of brain cells while leaving others untouched1. Twenty years later, seeing all the shortcomings of electrophysiology (low precision in targeting cells) and pharmacological manipulations (too slow in comparison to real neurotransmission), he went one step further and suggested that light might be the answer we’ve been looking for. The idea of switching neurons on and off like lightbulbs sounded both crazy and appealing, yet no one knew how to approach it. It took another six years for things to get real. Optogenetics was on its way.