Science Calling - Light Science: Optogenetics
By now you should all be familiar with Science Calling, Maria Daly's brilliant weekly science blog. Each Friday, Maria provides another nugget of science wonder with her posts crafted expertly on a wide range of science topics. Maria's enthusiasm for science communication is evident in each of her posts and I look forward eagerly to seeing what she will come up with next! To date, Maria has provided some extremely enjoyable, easy to read and informative pieces - often taking a simple topic unrelated to science and revealing the wonder within. Some of my favourite posts to date include 'Nature's Hybrids', 'The Science of Irish Proverbs', 'Irish Americans: Invasive Wildlife Abroad' and 'My Favourite Virus'. Her latest post, 'Light Science: Optogenetics' is another brilliantly constructed piece of science writing - describing the breakthroughs emerging from a new technique of neuroscience. The new post is reproduced below, with Maria's permission of course.
Last month, the increased specificity of optogenetics was shown in an experiment on sleep patterns in mice. A team at Stanford University inserted an opsin gene into a group of neurons (brain cells) known to help rouse sleeping animals. Optogenetics allowed the mice to be woken for less than two seconds. This allowed the scientists to study interrupted sleep in animals for the first time without stressing or waking the animals fully. While the mice showed all the physical signs of having slept well, the experiment showed interrupted sleep affected memory formation. Optogenetics also has applications beyond neuroscience and many researchers are using it in a variety of organs and cell types. In June, scientists from ETH Zurich described their use of optogenetics to regulate blood sugar in mice. They inserted a light activated protein into human kidney cells. These cells were placed under the skin of diabetic mice. When the mice were exposed to blue light, a reaction was started in their body leading to the production of insulin. Science journalist Ed Yong has written interesting posts about these optogenetics experiments.