Research Groups


Directing worms with light

16th January 2011

FMLS scientist Alexander Gottschalk has shown for the first time how the movement of an animal can be reliably and precisely directed through light impulses. The new technology was published online today in Nature Methods.

The team headed by FMLS scientist Alexander Gottschalk has employed optogenetics to control nervous cell function of the worm C. elegans by light. Optogenetics has recently been chosen as "Method of the Year 2010" by the journal Nature Methods and is an extremely powerful tool to carry out detailed studies on mechanisms of the nervous system. In the few years since its development the technology has revolutionized experimental approaches in neuroscience. The method has great potential for the study of numerous signaling pathways in cell biology. Frankfurt scientists Ernst Bamberg and Alexander Gottschalk are amongst the pioneers in using and further developing this new research tool.

Earlier optogenetic experiments in small organisms have mostly been performed using whole-field illumination and genetic targeting, strategies that do not always provide adequate cellular specificity. Targeted illumination can be a valuable alternative but it has only been shown in motionless animals without the ability to observe behavior output. In collaboration with Hang Lu from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, USA, the team around Alexander Gottschalk has now developed a real-time, multimodal illumination technology that allows both tracking and recording the behavior of freely moving C. elegans worms while stimulating specific cells that express channelrhodopsin-2 or inhibiting other cells that express the light-activated proton pump MAC. This new technology enhances the ability to control, alter, observe and investigate how neurons, muscles and circuits ultimately produce behavior in animals using optogenetics. Link to full article or watch video.