A team at Harvard University has built a computerized system to manipulate worms—making them start and stop, giving them the sensation of being touched, and even prompting them to lay eggs—by stimulating their neurons individually with laser light, all while the worms are swimming freely in a petri dish. The technology may help neuroscientists for the first time gain a complete understanding of the workings of an animal’s nervous system.
The researchers control the worm by shooting lasers at it:
Because the worm’s body is transparent, sharply focused lasers, pointed with an accuracy of 30 microns, could turn on or suppress individual neurons with no need for electrodes or other invasive methods. Leifer placed a microscope on a custom-built stage to track the worm as it swam around in a dish. He also wrote software that analyzed the microscope’s images to locate the target neurons, then pointed and fired the lasers accordingly.
Link | Photo: University College, London