The Seed article I chose to read for this week discusses the currently explored approach of optogenetics, a method that combines optical and genetic engineering techniques in an attempt to probe neural circuits. The study of channelrhodopsin, the light sensitive channel protein found in green algae and other photosynthetic microorganisms, provided genetic engineers leeway, to further investigate the implications of light-induced neuron activation in mammals. The article briefly describes how fiber-optic cables are utilized to generate action potentials used to stimulate target cells in the brain regions of mice. Modified versions of channelrhodopsin are put into mouse neurons and are activated by this seemingly tortuous technique. The altered behavioral patterns and neural activities experienced by the experimental mice are observed and recorded for future reference.
According to the article, the purpose of optogenetics, is to develop a broader understanding of the relationship between electric circuitry, neural function and neural activity. Despite the fact that scientists are likely to gain a great deal of valuable information from this investigation, its rather controversial for anyone to suggestion of this kind of laser treatment could potentially be used on humans to "enhance adult cognition" or treat neurological disorders like ADHD or Parkinson's disease. The researchers in the article, who used the lasers on macaque monkeys, stated that optogenetics "seems to be safe" also affirming that "the method did not damage the areas of the brain being tested, nor did it activate an immune response".
As I read through the article, I am reminded of the article that we read in class entitled: "Our silver-coated future". Analogous to the phenomenon of nanotechnology, very little is known about optogenetics, let alone genetic engineering. Many times, scientists are quick to discover and eager to conclude. One of the most intriguing parts of the article, admits to the fact that neuroscience is "unclear" on the implications of DBS, the currently used method of successfully treating Parkinson's disease. Our uncertainty of this technique says a lot about how little we know about the degenerative ailment to begin with.
How prepared are scientists to face the uncertainty of optogenetic therapy?