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Researchers have succeeded in creating a gene regulation method that enables thought-specific brain-waves to control the conversion of genes into proteins, called gene expression in technical terms.
The experts were inspired by the concept of “Mindflex”, a game in which players wear a headset enhanced with a forehead sensor. Players use their brainwaves to control a thought. In addition, the forehead sensor records brainwaves which they transfer into the playing environment.
“For the first time, we have been able to tap into human brain-waves, transfer them wirelessly to a gene network and regulate the expression of a gene depending on the type of thought. Being able to control gene expression via the power of thought is a dream that we’ve been chasing for over a decade,” said Martin Fussenegger, Professor of Biotechnology and Bioengineering at ETH Zurich’s Department of Biosystems in Basel.
First of all the study made use of a human gene implanted in mice. A tiny chamber containing human cells and an LED light was inserted under each mouse’s skin. The genes had been genetically modified to be sensitive to light, which made it possible to trigger and manage their protein production through shining the near-infrared light from the LED on them.
Afterwards the participants of the study were split in three different groups. They were asked to either meditate, play a game of Minecraft, or watch the light coming from the mouse’s body. Their brain activity was captured by a headset and analysed to establish their state of mind. The resulting signal was transmitted to the mice in the form of an electromagnetic field, which was able to light up the LED. The researchers are now hoping to have similar implants of such kind, which they believe could someday possibly help doctors to treat neurological diseases, such as epilepsy and chronic headaches.
Those who were asked to keep their eye on the mouse were able to see the effect their brain activity had on the red-coloured light, and thus on the genes within the implant. After some practice, this group learned to exert conscious control over the amount of protein produced. Those who were concentrating on playing a computer game produced average levels of the marker protein called SEAP (secreted embryonic alkaline phosphatase) in the mice. But when completely relaxed, in the meditation state, they generated very high amounts of the protein.