Controlling a Mind, Neuron by Neuron

Laser light activated neurons in this genetically engineered worm and forced it to stop swimming. The worm resumed when the laser was turned off. Credit: Samuel Lab/Harvard University
Scientists have come a step closer to gaining complete control over a mind, even if that mind belongs to a creature the size of a grain of sand. 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, as seen in the videos here—by stimulating their neurons individually with laser light, all while the worms swim 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.

Andrew Leifer, a graduate student in biophysics at Harvard who conducted the experiment, hopes the technique could some day help scientists create complete simulations of the organism’s behavior. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to make a computational model of the entire nervous system,” he says.

In a way, that would be like “uploading a mind,” even if a rudimentary one.

Read the rest of my story (and see videos!)

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