Tiny Animal Brain Takeover

Researchers use precise lasers to manipulate neurons in worms’ brains

In the quest to understand how the brain turns sensory input into behavior, Harvard scientists have crossed a major threshold. Using precisely targeted lasers, researchers have been able to take over a tiny animal’s brain, instruct it to turn in any direction they wish, and even implant false sensory information, fooling the animal into thinking food was nearby.

As described in a Sept. 23 paper published in the journal Nature, a team made up of Sharad Ramanathan, an assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology and of applied physics; Askin Kocabas, a postdoctoral fellow in molecular and cellular biology; Ching-Han Shen, a graduate student in molecular and cellular biology; and Zengcai V. Guo, from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, were able to take control of Caenorhabditis elegans — tiny, transparent worms — by manipulating neurons in the worms’ brain.