via Neurophilosophy

Optogenetics is a recently developed technique based on microbial proteins called channelrhodopsins (ChRs), which render neurons sensitive to light when inserted into them, thus enabling researchers to manipulate the activity of the cells using laser pulses.

Although still very new - the first ChR protein was isolated from a species of green algae in 2002 - optogenetics has already proven to be extremely powerful - it can be used to switch neurons on or off in an extremely precise manner and so to control simple behaviours in small organisms such as the nematode worm.

Earlier this year, ChR was used to restore vision to blind mice lacking the light-sensitive photoreceptor cells in the retina. And now researchers from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio have used the technique to restore motor function in rats paralysed by spinal cord injuries.

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