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Optogenetics may hold the key to understanding the mystery of the human brain. Image: Flickr.

Mind control with light: fact or fiction?

Optogenetics isn’t exactly the newest kid on the block, but its starting to take neuroscientists closer to understanding the world’s most complex algorithm – the human brain.

Optogenetics can be defined as the biological study of controlling living brain cells using light.

Neuroscientists believe this process has the ability to further their understanding of mental illnesses and brain disorders in the future. There are even hopes that certain diseases might be able to be treated with optogenetics.

Neuroscientist and Science editor for ABC’s ‘Radio National’; Jonathan Webb, told Hatch Macleay that optogenetics was not even in existence 10 years ago. Yet the strides since then have been rapid.

“Before [optogenetics], the only way we could turn brain cells on and off was electrically. That was a much more blunt tool… you don’t know how many brain cells you are turning on or off.”

Webb says people should be aware of the basics on optogenetics and not feel alarmed by the possibilities that surround it.

“Realistically what neuroscience is using this for is pretty basic research. Which is an exciting thing in itself,” he said.

The research is still in its infancy, but the possibilities are wide-ranging. For now, the power of these lights remains unknown.

Shannen Findlay

Music by HookSounds