Optogenetics is a method of using light to control cells in the brain. It can be used to alter behavior, model diseases, and maybe even one day, deliver drugs right where you need them. And now, it’s wireless! With lasers!
With genetic engineering, we can design cells that respond to light (from lasers or LEDs) by activating or deactivating themselves or otherwise changing their functionality. The appeal of using light to alter cells is that we can turn light on and off at the speed of, you know, light, which allows us to keep up with the speeds at which things happen inside our cells. For example, neurons in the brain send signals to other neurons using electric spikes that occur in just a few milliseconds, but with lasers, it’s possible to very precisely control (or disrupt) these messages, and this is what optogenetics is all about.
So what can optogenetics do for you? Well, in one example, researchers have found that they can use optogenetics to be able to drive neurons responsible for creating dopamine, and mice who had brain lasers (BRAIN LASERS!) tuned to stimulate those neurons started to act like they were on happy drugs. The same sort of technique has also been used to control awakeness in mice with narcolepsy.