Researchers are using inexpensive components from ordinary liquid crystal display (LCD) projectors to control the brain and muscles of tiny organisms, including freely moving worms. Red, green and blue lights from a projector activate light-sensitive microbial proteins that are genetically engineered into the worms, allowing the researchers to switch neurons on and off like light bulbs and turn muscles on and off like engines.
Use of the LCD technology to control small animals advances the field of optogenetics -- a mix of optical and genetic techniques that has given researchers unparalleled control over brain circuits in laboratory animals. Until now, the technique could be used only with larger animals by placement of an optical fiber into an animal's brain, or required illumination of an animal's entire body.
A paper published Jan. 9 in the advance online edition of the journal Nature Methods describes how the inexpensive illumination technology allows researchers to stimulate and silence specific neurons and muscles of freely moving worms, while precisely controlling the location, duration, frequency and intensity of the light.
"This illumination instrument significantly enhances our ability to control, alter, observe and investigate how neurons, muscles and circuits ultimately produce behavior in animals," said Hang Lu, an associate professor in the School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Lu and graduate students Jeffrey Stirman and Matthew Crane developed the tool with support from the National Institutes of Health and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
The illumination system includes a modified off-the-shelf LCD projector, which is used to cast a multi-color pattern of light onto an animal. The independent red, green and blue channels allow researchers to activate excitable cells sensitive to specific colors, while simultaneously silencing others.
|Contact: Abby Robinson|
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News