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There are many molecules [called Rhodopsins] that exist in nature, which are able to convert light into electricity. You can think of them as little proteins that are like solar cells
— Ed Boyden

“…when I started in neuroscience… I had trained as an electrical engineer and a physicist, and the first thing I thought about was, if these neurons are electrical devices, all we need to do is to find some way of driving those electrical changes at a distance [in a way that would also] allow us to have ultra-precise control…

Now how are we going to do that?

Well there are many molecules [called Rhodopsins] that exist in nature, which are able to convert light into electricity. You can think of them as little proteins that are like solar cells...When light hits it, it  allows charged particles [called ions] to enter and that allows this [organism] to have an electrical signal just like a solar cell charging up a battery...If we could install these molecules in neurons, then these neurons would become electrically drivable with light…"

"So what we need to do is to take these molecules and somehow install them in neurons. And because it's a protein, it's encoded for in the DNA of this organism. So all we've got to do is take that DNA, put it into a gene therapy vector, like a virus, and put it into neurons. The neuron then uses its natural protein-making machinery to fabricate these little light-sensitive proteins and install them all over the cell, like putting solar panels on a roof, and the next thing you know, you have a neuron which can be activated with light. And this was such a powerful tool…[that the] field has now come to be known as Optogenetics."


--Ed Boyden, founder of the Synthetic Neurobiology Group within Massachusetts Institute of Technology[MIT].