These Researchers Have ‘Hacked’ Fly Brains And Can Now Control Them Remotely

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A research team comprising the top institutes in the U.S. have brought a wireless technology that enables neurons in a fly brain to be controlled in less than a second, an institutional press release said.

In addition, a research project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) aims to develop a headset technology that can not only read the brain’s neural activity but also write it for another individual.

Called Magnetic, Optical, Acoustic Neural Access (MOANA), the program is aiming to make a wireless headset that can execute brain-to-brain communication in a nonsurgical way. Jacob Robinson, an associate professor at Rice University is one of the researchers working on the project, and his team has developed a method to hack fly brains wirelessly.

The research team used genetic engineering to express a special ion channel in flies’ neuronal cells, which can be activated using heat. When the ion channel is activated, the flies spread out their wings, as they would do as part of their mating gesture.

To activate the channel at will, the researchers then injected the experimental flies with nanoparticles that could be heated by applying a magnetic field. The genetically modified flies were then introduced into an enclosure that had an electromagnet on top and a camera to capture the movements of the flies.

“By bringing together experts in genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and electrical engineering we were able to put all the pieces together and prove this idea works,” said Robinson in the press release.

The team is focused on developing technology that will help restore vision in people even if their eyes do not work. This will be done by stimulating parts of the brain that are associated with vision to give a sense of vision in the absence of functional eyes.

“To get to the natural precision of the brain we probably need to get a response down to a few hundredths of a second. So there is still a ways to go,” Robinson added. “The long-term goal of this work is to create methods for activating specific regions of the brain in humans for therapeutic purposes without ever having to perform surgery.”

The work done in collaboration with researchers at Brown University and Duke University was published in the journal Nature Materials. 

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