Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Light controls a worm's behavior: Scientists commandeer organism's nervous system without wires or electrodes

Date:
January 23, 2011
Source:
Harvard University
Summary:
Physicists and bioengineers have developed an optical instrument allowing them to control the behavior of a worm just by shining a tightly focused beam of light at individual neurons inside the organism.

The CoLBeRT (Controlling Locomotion and Behavior in Real Time) system for optical control of freely moving animals, in this case the millimeter-long worm C. elegans, "allows us to commandeer the nervous system of swimming or crawling nematodes using pulses of blue and green light — no wires, no electrodes,” says Aravinthan D.T. Samuel, a professor of physics and affiliate of Harvard’s Center for Brain Science.
Credit: Courtesy of Center for Brain Science

Physicists and bioengineers have developed an optical instrument allowing them to control the behavior of a worm just by shining a tightly focused beam of light at individual neurons inside the organism.

The pioneering optogenetic research, by a team at Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School, is described this week in the journal Nature Methods. Their device is known as the CoLBeRT (Controlling Locomotion and Behavior in Real Time) system for optical control of freely moving animals, in this case the millimeter-long worm Caenorhabditis elegans.

"This optical instrument allows us to commandeer the nervous system of swimming or crawling nematodes using pulses of blue and green light -- no wires, no electrodes," says Aravinthan D.T. Samuel, a professor of physics and affiliate of Harvard's Center for Brain Science. "We can activate or inactivate individual neurons or muscle cells, essentially turning the worm into a virtual biorobot."

Samuel and colleagues chose to work with C. elegans, an organism often used in biological research, because of its optical transparency, its well-defined nervous system of exactly 302 neurons, and its ease of manipulation. They genetically modified the worms so their neurons express the light-activated proteins channelrhodopsin-2 and halorhodopsin.

In conjunction with high-precision micromirrors that can direct laser light to individual cells, the scientists were then able to stimulate -- using blue light -- or inhibit -- using green light -- behaviors such as locomotion and egg-laying.

"If you shine blue light at a particular neuron near the front end of the worm, it perceives that as being touched and will back away," says co-author Andrew M. Leifer, a Ph.D. student in Harvard's Department of Physics and Center for Brain Science. "Similarly, blue light shined at the tail end of the modified worm will prompt it to move forward."

The scientists were also able to use pulses of light to steer the worms left or right. By stimulating neurons associated with the worm's reproductive system, they were even able to rouse the animal into secreting an egg.

Key to the CoLBeRT system is a tracking microscope recording the motion of a swimming or crawling worm, paired with image processing software that can quickly estimate the location of individual neurons and instruct a digital micromirror device to illuminate targeted cells. Because cells in an unrestrained worm represent a rapidly moving target, the system can capture 50 frames per second and attain spatial resolution of just 30 microns.

"This development should have profound consequences in systems neuroscience as a new tool to probe nervous system activity and behavior, as well as in bioengineering and biorobotics," Samuel says. "Our laboratory has been pioneering new optical methods to study the nervous system, and this is the latest, and perhaps our greatest, invention."

Leifer and Samuel's co-authors on the Nature Methods paper are Christopher Fang-Yen of the University of Pennsylvania, Marc Gershow of Harvard, and Mark J. Alkema of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Their work was supported by the Dana Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard University. The original article was written by Steve Bradt, Harvard Staff Writer. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Andrew M Leifer, Christopher Fang-Yen, Marc Gershow, Mark J Alkema, Aravinthan D T Samuel. Optogenetic manipulation of neural activity in freely moving Caenorhabditis elegans. Nature Methods, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.1554

Cite This Page:

Harvard University. "Light controls a worm's behavior: Scientists commandeer organism's nervous system without wires or electrodes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 January 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110118143222.htm>.
Harvard University. (2011, January 23). Light controls a worm's behavior: Scientists commandeer organism's nervous system without wires or electrodes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110118143222.htm
Harvard University. "Light controls a worm's behavior: Scientists commandeer organism's nervous system without wires or electrodes." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110118143222.htm (accessed September 17, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Space Race Pits Bezos Vs Musk

Reuters - Business Video Online (Sep. 16, 2014) Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' startup will team up with Boeing and Lockheed to develop rocket engines as Elon Musk races to have his rockets certified. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
MIT's Robot Cheetah Unleashed — Can Now Run, Jump Freely

MIT's Robot Cheetah Unleashed — Can Now Run, Jump Freely

Newsy (Sep. 16, 2014) MIT developed a robot modeled after a cheetah. It can run up to speeds of 10 mph, though researchers estimate it will eventually reach 30 mph. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Manufacturer Prints 3-D Car In Record Time

Manufacturer Prints 3-D Car In Record Time

Newsy (Sep. 15, 2014) Automobile manufacturer Local Motors created a drivable electric car using a 3-D printer. Printing the body only took 44 hours. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Refurbished New York Subway Tunnel Unveiled After Sandy Damage

Refurbished New York Subway Tunnel Unveiled After Sandy Damage

Reuters - US Online Video (Sep. 15, 2014) New York officials unveil subway tunnels that were refurbished after Superstorm Sandy. Nathan Frandino reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

    Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile: iPhone Android Web
    Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins