Thanks to some small LED lights, we’re making big strides in unlocking the mysteries of the brain. Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have developed a method of manipulating neuron proteins using an LED. By observing the resulting activity in mouse brains, they can determine each protein’s function – and point to the analog for humans.
Proteins are composed of chains of amino acids through which molecules flow. A precisely calibrated LED light applied to a protein causes a light-sensitive amino acid – called a Cmn – to fall off the chain. This alters the flow of molecules through the amino acids, effectively activating or deactivating the protein.
Controlling the proteins in this manner reveals the brain activities with which each one is associated. This is significant in illuminating the most complicated and mysterious organ we have in our bodies. Now that’s bright!