And darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
So. Seems it was pretty smart, for that Yahweh guy, to kick things off, with light.
Because Science Men, rooting around in the brainpan, have determined that when things go wrong in there, they can sometimes be made right, with light.
By blending gene therapy, neural engineering and fiber optics, experimenters at more than 800 laboratories world-wide are making neurons into switches they can directly control by beaming a selected wavelength of laser light to a targeted cell in a living brain.
So far the light is only shining on animals. This is some of what it does:
Light on: Mice freeze in fear. Light off: They scamper freely. Researchers at Stanford University and MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory had activated light-sensitive neurons in the brain’s hippocampus involved in the memory of fright.
Light on: Addicted mice lose their taste for cocaine. Light off: They avidly seek the drug. Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston and the University of Iowa had targeted neurons in a part of the cortex—the brain’s outer layer associated with seeking a reward.
Light on: Epileptic seizures stop. Light off: The spasms resume. Researchers at Stanford and at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in France had targeted neurons in the mouse brain’s cortex and thalamus known to be overactive during seizures
Light on: Depressed mice become more socially active and more eager for sugar. Light off: Listlessness and indifference to sweets return. Scientists at Stanford and MIT had targeted the dopamine neurons, which make a chemical thought to elevate mood in a reward circuit located in the midbrain.
Appropriately, this Wonderment began with our great good friends, pond scum.
For generations, microbiologists had known that single-celled bacteria, fungi and algae survive thanks to proteins that respond to visible light. When illuminated, these “opsin” proteins change the flow of electrically charged ions within the cell, to help the cell turn light into energy or as a sensory cue. In 2002, German researchers isolated one from green algae—a class of proteins called channelrhodopsins—that responded only to blue light
Taking advantage of that find, Dr. Deisseroth and Dr. [Edward] Boyden [of MIT] attached the gene to a virus that targets brain cells. Then they wanted to see if that altered virus would insert the light-sensitive protein into a neuron, so that the brain cell would become responsive to light. “We gave it a try in neurons and it worked the first time,” said Dr. Boyden. “It is important to be lucky.”
Yes. It is.
So, someday, soon, it can all be made better. Just switch on the light.