Japanese scientists demonstrate remote control of worms

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(ORDO NEWS) — Biologists have introduced genes encoding light-sensitive proteins into the DNA of worms. This allowed them to be controlled by light, forcing them to move on a green signal and stop on a red one.

Microscopic robots could be very useful for reconnaissance, surveying the area, monitoring the environment, and searching for victims of disasters.

However, “packing” everything you need, including motors, batteries, sensors, antennas and microcircuits, into a body even the size of an insect, is not easy.

However, there is an alternative approach: you can use the insects themselves, turning them into controlled cyborgs. Most often, they try to modify cockroaches for this.

But scientists from Osaka City University turned to worms.

The teams of Mitsumasa Koyanagi and Akihisa Terakita used the nematode C. elegans , one of the most popular and deeply studied model organisms.

From the DNA of mosquitoes, scientists isolated the genes for the light-sensitive protein, the opsin MosOpn3, and then introduced them into the DNA of worms.

At the same time, the new gene was not expressed in all cells, but only in nociceptor neurons, which signal the body about damage or other dangerous effects.

In response to even weak radiation, MosOpn3 activated nociceptors, causing the nematodes to move actively, trying to avoid the negative stimulus.

Similar work was done with the LamPP protein, whose gene was isolated from lamprey DNA and forced to work in motor neurons.

This opsin made it possible to control nematodes with light of different wavelengths.

In response to the appearance of photons in the green part of the spectrum, the animals moved, and when exposed to ultraviolet light, they stopped in place.

Experiments have shown that this can be done many times and the protein system does not degrade over time.

“Both opsins belong to a family of G-protein-coupled receptors that can be sensitive to very different kinds of stimuli, including smell, taste, hormones, neurotransmitters,” Professor Koyanagi said.

This would allow the same approach to be used if other proteins were to be integrated into the nematodes to make the cyborg worms respond to other types of stimuli besides light, he says.


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