Tuesday, August 16, 2022

They hack a fly’s brain and remotely control its movements

Scientists have hacked a fly’s brain and manipulated its neurons to remotely control its movements. Through magnetic fields modified by their will, they excite neurons that trigger the motivated behavior in half a second. A technology that is also being discovered for humans.

Researchers at Rice University, Duke University, Brown University and the Baylor School of Medicine have remotely controlled the movements of a fly by activating specific neurons.

This technique, which combines genetic engineering, nanotechnology and electrical engineering, activates neural circuits about 50 times faster than the best previously demonstrated technology for magnetic stimulation of genetically defined neurons, according to the researchers.

To achieve this, they used magnetic signals to activate neurons: this allowed them to control the body position of fruit flies moving freely around an enclosure. The results of this work have been published in the journal Nature Materials.

According to the researchers, this ability to activate genetically selected cells at precise times could be a powerful tool for studying the brain, treating disease and developing direct brain-machine communication technology.


It’s all based on development magnetic geneticsA biological technique that involves the use of magnetic fields to remotely control cellular activity.

This technology, which uses the activation of neurons via magnetic fields, to replace the electrodes currently used for deep brain stimulation, for people with Parkinson’s, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or even epilepsy. cases may also be applied.

This research yields developed wireless technology to remotely activate specific brain circuits in fruit flies Received magnetic remote control’s speed approximates brain speedGiving hope of healing without surgery.

However, the timed activation of specific cells is not entirely new, as it has previously been used to study the brain, to treat diseases (deep stimulation for Parkinson’s or epilepsy), and to develop direct brain-machine or brain-to-brain communication techniques. have to has to. Brain.

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playing with heat

What’s really important about the new research is that it provides an original way to control neurons with electromagnets: It uses the heating of magnetic nanoparticles introduced into the ion channels of temperature-sensitive neurons.

Specifically, the researchers began by genetically modifying the flies to express this specific heat-sensitive ion channel in some of their neurons: They injected them with nanoparticles of magnetic iron oxide, which were heated by a magnetic field. can be done.

The neurons selected to receive these nanoparticles are those that cause the flies to partially extend their wings when contemplating mating.

The enclosure where the flies were deposited on an electromagnet: The magnetic field affecting the flies is replaced by a flow of electric current that travels through the researchers to the electromagnet.

When researchers activate an electromagnet with an electric charge, ion channels implanted in neurons capture that heat. The channel then opens and activates the neuron: the fly spreads its wings.

Analysis of the videos of the experiments found that the flies adopted the posture of the wings spread around with genetic modifications after half a second Due to change in magnetic field.

critical technology

This development has faltered, as its claims are not limited to the fruit fly, which is a proof of concept for a more ambitious technology.

jacob robinsonThe lead author of this research, at the same time the director of the project Magnetic, optical and acoustic nerve access (MOANA), funded by DARPA to develop headset technology for non-surgical, wireless, brain-to-brain communication, according to the same Rice University where Robinson works.

Robinson explains that the long-term goal of this work is to create ways to activate specific brain regions in humans for therapeutic purposes.

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More specifically, Robinson’s team is working toward the goal of partially restoring vision to blind patients by stimulating the parts of the brain associated with vision.

is there anything else?

However, the reality is that DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technologies for military use. And it is he who is also funding the fruit fly remote brain control project using magnetogenetics.

One of DARPA’s stated goals is to develop an interface capable of decoding neuronal activity in the cerebral cortex and redirecting this activity to another person’s brain, something that has already been achieved with fruit flies. .

“The long-term goal of this work is to create ways to activate specific brain regions in humans for therapeutic purposes without surgery,” explains Robinson.

rat brain

But this has not been the only effort. In 2019, Chinese scientists connected a human brain to a rat brain and got the rodent to follow the signals given by the human brain to exit a maze.

In 2021, researchers at the University of Miami developed magnetoelectric nanoparticles (MENPs), which, when integrated into the human bloodstream, can reach the brain, record a person’s mental activity and transfer that information to an external computer. Huh.

In both cases, the techniques used have varied, but there have been no previous experiments attempting to manipulate the brain of another living being, aimed at discovering how it interacts with humans. be obtained.


Subsecond multichannel magnetic control of selective neural circuits in freely moving flies. Charles Sebesta et al. Nature Materials (2022). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41563-022-01281-7

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