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Scientists can now remotely control fruit flies' brains with magnetism

Rice University researchers can now use magnetism to remotely control fruit flies spreading their wings by altering brain neurons.

Published Jul 20, 2022 6:02 AM CDT   |   Updated Fri, Aug 12 2022 2:35 AM CDT

A study on the flies titled "Subsecond multichannel magnetic control of select neural circuits in freely moving flies" has been published in the journal Nature Materials.

Researchers from Rice University can now activate targeted neurons in the brain of fruit flies using magnetic signals, allowing them to control their bodies. Their new technology enabled the team to activate neural circuits roughly 50 times faster than the previous best demonstration of magnetic stimulation of specific neurons. The targeted neurons were genetically engineered to make them heat sensitive.

The neurons were responsible for causing the flies to spread their wings partially and were manipulated by the researchers by injecting the flies with magnetic nanoparticles that could be heated using an electromagnet. Constraining the flies to an enclosure above an electromagnet allowed the researchers to manipulate the magnetic field to heat the nanoparticles, activate the neurons, and cause the flies to spread their wings.

"To study the brain or to treat neurological disorders the scientific community is searching for tools that are both incredibly precise, but also minimally invasive. Remote control of select neural circuits with magnetic fields is somewhat of a holy grail for neurotechnologies. Our work takes an important step toward that goal because it increases the speed of remote magnetic control, making it closer to the natural speed of the brain," said study author Jacob Robinson.

"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. 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," continued Robinson.

You can read more from the study here.

Scientists can now remotely control fruit flies' brains with magnetism 01 |
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