Understanding the brain by controlling behavior

In the quest to understand how the brain turns sensory input into behavior, Harvard scientists have crossed a major threshold. Using precisely-targeted lasers, researchers have been able to take over an animal’s brain, instruct it to turn in any direction they choose, and even to implant false sensory information, fooling the animal into thinking food was nearby.

As described in a September 23 paper published in Nature, a team made up of Sharad Ramanathan, an Assistant Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and of Applied Physics, were able to take control of Caenorhabditis elegans – tiny, transparent worms – by manipulating neurons in the worms’ “brain.”

Caenorhabditis elegans, adult hermaphrodite (credit: Bob Goldstein, UNC Chapel Hill/Wikimedia Commons)
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