Researchers wirelessly hack master gene using nanophotonics.


Researchers have long been using the field of optogenetics, a biological technique which involves the use of light to control cells in living tissue, typically neurons, which have been engineered to express light-sensitive ion channels. By doing this, it is hoped they could one day develop new treatments for diseases by correcting the miscommunications that occur between cells. However, optogenetics to date has not addressed malfunctions in genetic blueprints which guide human growth and underlie many diseases. Now, a study from researchers at Buffalo University wirelessly controls Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor 1 (FGFR1), a gene which plays a key role in human development from embryos to adults, in lab-grown brain tissue using a technique known as optogenomics. The team state the ability to manipulate the gene could lead to new cancer treatments, and ways to prevent and treat mental disorders such as schizophrenia. The opensource study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Previous studies show controlling the expression of genes and ultimately their resultant proteins is of great interest to the global research community, with view to controlling biological processes and disease with the flick of a light switch. Breakthroughs in the field of stem cell biology, optogenetics, and bio-photonics have enabled the control and monitoring of biological processes through light. However, the majority of studies rely only on conventional optical sources and detectors, which, due to their size, limits the applications of light-mediated biointerfaces. Recently, work has begun on a new subfield of optogenetics researchers have dubbed ‘optogenomics’, which is the control of the human genome using laser light and nanotechnology, allowing for more control and applications. The current study controls light-sensitive proteins in recombinant brain tissue via wireless nano-laser devices to affect neural development.

The current study manipulates FGFR1 using nanophotonic brain implants, wireless devices which include nano-lasers and nano-antennas. The implants were inserted into the brain tissue grown from induced pluripotent stem cells, and enhanced with light-activated molecular toggle switches. A blue laser, red laser and far-red laser were then shone onto the tissue. Results show that the laser-photonic interaction activated and deactivated FGFR1 and its associated cellular functions, essentially hacking the gene.

The team state optogenomic interfaces, light-mediated nano-bio interfaces which allow the control of genes and their interactions in the cell nucleus, and, therfore all the cell functionalities, exhibits high sub-cellular resolution and temporal accuracy. They go on to add compared to con-ventional chemical and electrical nano–bio interfaces, the use of light as a mediator enables new type of interfaces with unprecedented spatial and temporal resolutions.

The team surmise they have wirelessly hacked a master gene using nano-photonics. For the future, the researchers state the next steps, include testing their optogenomic technology in 3D mini-brains and cancerous tissue.

Source: University at Buffalo

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