Flies were injected with iron nanoparticles to activate the neurons. (Credit: C. Sebesta and J. Robinson/Rice University)

A research team has created wireless technology to remotely activate specific brain circuits in fruit flies in under one second. The team used magnetic signals to activate targeted neurons that controlled the body position of freely moving fruit flies in an enclosure.

The researchers used genetic engineering to express a special heat-sensitive ion channel in neurons that cause flies to partially spread their wings, a common mating gesture. The researchers then injected magnetic nanoparticles that could be heated with an applied magnetic field. An overhead camera watched flies as they roamed freely about an enclosure atop an electromagnet.

By changing the magnet’s field in a specified way, the researchers could heat the nanoparticles and activate the neurons. An analysis of video from the experiments showed flies with the genetic modifications assumed the wing-spread posture within approximately half a second of the magnetic field change.

The team is working toward a goal of partially restoring vision to patients who are blind.

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