It may soon be possible for neuroscientists to look inside the human brain and see exactly what it is doing thanks to pioneering technology called optogenetics.
Neuroscientists are already using optogenetics in mice and other laboratory animals, activating neurons inside their brains. In a two-step process, animals are genetically modified in such a way that certain neurons produce light-sensitive proteins. Researchers can direct flashes of light onto these neurons, triggering them to send signals to other neurons. Using optogenetics on human brains would allow neuroscientists to map the brain’s complicated neural circuitry for the first time in history. It could conceivably enable scientists to control neurons to direct thoughts and actions. Optogenetics also has the potential to be used to treat conditions such as blindness and neural disorders like Parkinson’s, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease. Zimmer’s accessibly written text offers a good deal of background information to put the subject in context. He includes a discussion of the ethics of using animals as test subjects. Well-organized and appealingly designed, the text is complemented with numerous color charts, diagrams, and photographs.
An intriguing and informative introduction to the field of neuroscience and the frontiers of modern brain research. (photos, source notes, glossary, bibliography, further information) (Nonfiction. 14-18)