AChemS 2011 Optogenetics Craze

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By Nicole Garneau, PhD

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 morning.

AChemS 2011 JCardin

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.

AChemS 2011 Neurons

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:

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