The researchers and scientists at Weill Cornell Medicine are working on a family of light-sensing molecules with great haste. This research can advance the very complicated field of optogenetics. There are light-sensitive proteins that play a very important role in the field of biology as a whole. This has to do with topics ranging from its use in photosynthesis to even our own vision. In photosynthesis these proteins are how plants are able to absorb the photons given off from the sunlight and react by using it as an energy source. Most of the information on these types of proteins are from the specific protein bacteriorhodopsin, which is seen in these photosynthetic reactions. However we can only study this protein to a certain point given the technology we have which has lead researchers to a road block. This new study which is being called; line-scanning high-speed atomic force microscopy, will help pass this block.
The problem that was occurring when studying this field was that the tracking of activity of individual molecules was too slow to see the protein actually change, for example how bacteriorhodopsin reacts to light. The new approach involves sacrificing the image detail of the altering molecules for a much faster frame rate. It is as if one was taking blurrier pictures of a horse in order to capture its entire journey. According to Dr. Perez Perrino they are tracking the protein every 1.6 milliseconds in order to speed of bacteriorhodopsin in its natural, wild-style habitat. As a result of light it will switch between open and closed states. With this new method of imaging they have concluded that the transition to the open state and the its duration always happen at the same speed. However the molecule remains in the closed state for a longer period of time as the light increases.
Optogenetics begins to play a role because researchers in this field insert genes for light-sensing molecules in neurons or other cells, causing them to alter the cell’s activity. This work could potentially help us control the brain in ways we could never imagine. This could lead to eventually treating neurological diseases in the near future.
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