The Loh Down On Science

Manchurian Worms

Quick: a pulsing ball of mind-controlled worms: scary or awesome?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, saying let's find out!

Meet the tiny, transparent roundworm. With only 302 neurons, it's a convenient subject for neuroscience experiments. And, now, Harvard scientists have developed a way to fully control roundworm behavior.

How? First, they genetically altered worms to make their nerve cells sensitive to light. Then they fired a rapidly pulsing laser at one specific neuron. By stimulating the nerve with light, they could control the movement of the worm, sending it wherever they pleased. They also tricked the worm into believing food was nearby, though it wasn't.

This experiment could lead to a greater understanding of more complex neurological systems, which remain something of a mystery to modern science.  

Not to worry though: the vastly more complex human brain contains around 86 billion neurons. So no laser-wielding mad scientist is going to trick you into driving through McDonald's for some invisible fries. Anytime soon.

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC Pasadena, California. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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