Recent Swiss research into brainwaves has seen human thought activate a tiny light, which had been implanted into mice.
What’s more, the LED then activated light-sensitive genes which had been genetically engineered to respond, producing protein in the subject.
Hot on the heels of last week’s news that researchers in the US have successfully established a direct brain-to-brain connection between pairs of people, further successful experiments have given us even more knowledge about brainpower.
“Here we report the design of a synthetic mind-controlled gene switch that enables human brain activities and mental states to wirelessly programme the transgene expression in human cells,” reads the most recent study, released in the Nature Communications journal.
Senior author of the work, Martin Fussenegger at ETH Zurich in Switzerland says that this is just an initial proof of concept, but that it’s is a huge step forward and could one day provide a treatment mechanism for patients coping with chronic pain or epilepsy.
“At first you may ask why should I think something and then control my genes? I could push a button and [also] induce the LED,” said Fussenegger.
“The reason is, we’ve designed it for potential application for locked-in patients who can no longer communicate with the outside world other than with their mental activities and brainwaves. This sounds like science fiction but it’s an obvious interconnection of different technologies.”
Brainwaves, implants and innovation
The process developed by Fussenegger and his team saw a person put on a wireless electroencephalography (EEG) headset, which monitors the brainwaves of the wearer and transmits those to an implant in the mouse.
The implant was fitted with a small light and a batch of cells that were genetically engineered to react to the light. The person in the headset then controlled the turning on and off of the light by altering his/her mental state from highly concentrating to relaxed, or vice versa.
When the light switched on it activated specific light-sensitive cells, which can initiate the production of proteins. Alternately the turning off of the switch halted production of these proteins. This meant researchers could control how much protein is being depositing into the mouse by utilising people’s minds.
“Though this study used a simple brain computer interface (BCI) device, this field of research has been steadily progressing,” explains the BBC.
“Developments include a thought powered remote control helicopter and paralysed humans have used their thoughts to power a robotic arm. Previous studies have also shown that genes can be expressed using light – a process which uses optogenetics where cells or genes are engineered to respond to light.”
Man trying to use mind powers image via Shutterstock