Scientists can now remotely control the brains of fruit flies using magnetism

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A study on flies titled “Sub-second multi-channel magnetic control of selected neural circuits in free-moving flies” was published in the journal Natural materials.

Researchers at Rice University can now activate targeted neurons in the brains of fruit flies using magnetic signals, allowing them to control their bodies. Their new technology allowed the team to activate neural circuits about 50 times faster than the previous best demonstration of magnetic stimulation of specific neurons. The targeted neurons have been genetically modified to make them sensitive to heat.

The neurons were responsible for partially unfolding the flies’ wings and were manipulated by the researchers by injecting the flies with magnetic nanoparticles that could be heated using an electromagnet. Constraining the flies to an enclosure above an electromagnet allowed the researchers to manipulate the magnetic field to heat the nanoparticles, activate neurons and cause the flies to spread their wings.

To study the brain or treat neurological disorders, the scientific community is looking for tools that are both incredibly precise, but also minimally invasive. Remotely controlling selected neural circuits with magnetic fields is something of a holy grail for neurotechnology. Our work takes an important step towards this goal because it increases the speed of remote magnetic control, bringing it closer to the natural speed of the brain.“said study author Jacob Robinson.

The long-term goal of this work is to create methods to activate specific brain regions in humans for therapeutic purposes without ever resorting to surgery. To achieve the natural precision of the brain, we probably need to get a response of a few hundredths of a second. So there’s still a long way to go“, continued Robinson.

You can read more of the study here.

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