Optogenetics revisited – TEDtalks

After talking about all these great ideas on how to improve everyone’s cognitive toolkit on the Edge site, I am happy to write about something else again. It turns out to be in part about another great and inspiring site that hosts talks from fascinating people around the world, the TEDtalks video site.

The reason I want to introduce you to the site now is that I recently found a fascinating talk on it about optogenetics and I know from some of you that you liked my post about optogenetics a while ago. So I wanted to share this talk with you.

The TED website

The TED website is devoted to deliver “ideas worth spreading” and make them available to a wide public for free! New talks are added each week and they are all releases under a Creative Commons license. Thanks so much for that! The talks on there on average are nothing less than inspiring, fascinating and stunning. If you ever wonder what to do with 20 minutes and have a fast Internet connection available, this is the site to go!

Ed Boyden

Back to optogenetics though. The talk I saw is Ed Boyden‘s talk at this year’s annual TED conference in Long Beach, California where he is talking about “a light switch for neurons”. Sounds familiar? I hope so, if you have read my earlier post on optogenetics. If not, go back and have a look 🙂

Ed Boyden is an associate professor and leads the synthetic neurobiology group at MIT in Cambridge, MA. He is one of the main players in the field of optogenetics, having co-invented the technology with Karl Deisseroth at Stanford and continuing to do ingenious things in his 2007-founded lab at MIT.

The talk

In this TED talk, he explains in an understandable way how he inserts channelrhodopsins and other light-sensitive proteins into brain cells and the incredible things he can already do with them, or that he expects to be able to do soon. For example, he shows how he could cure mice of analogs of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He also speculates about the possibility to temporarily switch of an epileptic brain specifically during an epileptic seizure to return it to its “stable” state immediately after. He then finishes with another success story in which he uses the ingenious approach of replacing missing photoreceptors in the eyes of blind mice with light-sensitive proteins. The mice are able to sense light again.  This works because the eye is still transparent thus light can still enter the eye and the light-sensitive proteins brought into the eye basically function like a camera that then transmits its pictures to the brain. Wow!

Optogenetics on TEDtalks. A great combination!



Illustration of neurons by Benedict Campbell at Wellcome Images, picture of Ed Boyden by Jeff Kubina

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