Scientists have have for the first time remotely turned genes on and off inside a mouse using nothing but the power of their mind.
Researchers created a gene regulation method that enables thought-specific brain-waves to control the conversion of genes into proteins - called gene expression in technical terms.
"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 (D-BSSE) in Basel.
The system makes use of an electroencephalogram (EEG) headset.
The recorded brain-waves are analysed and wirelessly transmitted via Bluetooth to a controller, which in turn controls a field generator that generates an electromagnetic field; this supplies an implant with an induction current.
A light then literally goes on in the implant: an integrated LED lamp that emits light in the near-infrared range turns on and illuminates a culture chamber containing genetically modified cells.
When the near-infrared light illuminates the cells, they start to produce the desired protein.
The implant was initially tested in cell cultures and mice, and controlled by the thoughts of various test subjects.
The researchers used SEAP for the tests, an easy-to-detect human model protein which diffuses from the culture chamber of the implant into the mouse's bloodstream.
To regulate the quantity of released protein, the test subjects were categorised according to three states of mind: bio-feedback, meditation and concentration.
Test subjects who who were concentrating induced average SEAP values in the bloodstream of the mice.
When completely relaxed (meditation), the researchers recorded very high SEAP values in the test animals.
For bio-feedback, the test subjects observed the LED light of the implant in the body of the mouse and were able to consciously switch the LED light on or off via the visual feedback.
This in turn was reflected by the varying amounts of SEAP in the bloodstream of the mice.
"Controlling genes in this way is completely new and is unique in its simplicity," said Fussenegger.
The system functions efficiently and effectively in the human-cell culture and human-mouse system.
Fussenegger hopes that a thought-controlled implant could one day help to combat neurological diseases, such as chronic headaches, back pain and epilepsy, by detecting specific brain-waves at an early stage and triggering and controlling the creation of certain agents in the implant at exactly the right time.
The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.