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With Your Mind!

Swiss researchers have designed a synthetic optogenetic signaling pathway that can be controlled by an electroencephalography-based brain–computer interface — or, they've found a way to control transgene expression with their minds.

As they report in Nature Communications, ETH Zurich and the University of Basel's Martin Fussenegger and colleagues hooked up an EEG headset, which captures brainwave activity and sends it out via Bluetooth to a controller that turns an electromagnetic field on or off. That field activates an implant in, in this case, a mouse that turns on an LED light, and that light triggers an optogenetic pathway to produce a protein, in this instance the easily measured human glycoprotein SEAP.

"A brain is essentially nothing else but electricity — the nerve cells firing electricity around as our brain thinks," Fussenegger tells the Los Angeles Times. "So we have electricity, which can then be linked to the light, and the light can then be linked to gene expression. If we daisy-chain these features, it allows us to control transgenes by the power of our thoughts."

Fussenegger adds that they hope to further develop this to be used by people with chronic pain or suffering from locked-in syndrome.