Optogenetics is not the newest craze (dates back to 2002), but
it has huge potential and momentum (one peer reviewed article in
2006, exponential growth predicts 280 scientitsts will publish
using this method in 2012).
Optogenetics allows scientitsts to selectively express a gene in
neurons that allows that neuron to respond to light- at the SINGLE
neuron cell level. Pretty cool.Dr. Diego Restrepo from UCD
describes optogenetics in broad terms in the video above.
Dr. Jessica Cardin from Yale gave a more in depth overview this
She made an incredible point that I hadn't thought of: when you
allow a neuron to express a gene that responds to light, that
response is all over the neuron, not just in the area of the neuron
that normal creates an action potential during regular activation.
In the picture below you can see the little blue lines (look
closely on the neuron to the left) that represent where on the cell
to are the specific parts that respond to light- and they are
everywhere. Compare that to the neuron on the right (a regular
neuron) that is acivated in the axon (big red center part) and
sends that action potential out from the center.
What does this mean? I think its a great lesson that scientific
techniques are constantly evolving to be more nuanced, but they are
never perfect, as science is never perfect. It reminds us to think
critically about data and the methods we use to get data, but more
so to be critical about the conclusions we state, as that has
implications well beyond the front and back cover of journals.
Want to know more about optogenetics? You should, it was made
the Nature METHOD OF THE YEAR in 2010. Pretty impressive.
Nature put together a 4 minute video that does a great job putting
the words of this method in images. Check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I64X7vHSHOE