Swiss scientists have created what is being hailed as the world’s first “mind-genetic interface.” It means that one day humans may be able to control changes in the body with their mind. This was done by controlling gene expression in mice, the process that results in a functional protein being produced from DNA.
The team carried out the experiment by creating a link between synthetic biology and the mind. They inserted a gene that is expressed in the presence of infrared light into human kidney cells. When the cells are exposed to the light the gene is activated, causing a cascade of signals that activate the target gene.
This technique is known in synthetic biology as a ‘genetic switch’. These engineered cells were then put into an implant with a wireless infrared LED that was inserted under the skin of a mouse.
Several human volunteers then wore EEG caps that recorded their brainwaves, and were taught several brainwave patterns that would activate the LED that was implanted in the mouse. This was achieved by teaching them meditation techniques to create a relaxed pattern of brain waves. They also played a computer game to produce brainwaves with a concentrating pattern.
When the volunteers created the desired brainwaves, the LED in the mouse switched on activating the signalling cascade, and so turning on the target gene. The target gene then caused the production of a protein that was then detected in the mouse’s blood stream.
While it sounds more like science fiction then real life, the group from Switzerland successfully used human thoughts to cause a gene to be expressed in mice.
Achieving the same feat in humans is still years off, but it is hoped that developing these techniques further could help people with locked-in syndrome to self-administer drugs, or epilepsy sufferers to control seizures.