Have you tried optogenetics?


It has become pretty common to see someone, after a neuroscience talk, ask, “Interesting – but have you tried doing this with optogenetics?” As if this technique to precisely activate neurons was something that was trivial to implement. It’s not, obviously, it’s quite expensive and hard (for many systems). Otherwise everyone would be doing it already! Who wouldn’t want to turn neurons on and off at will?

Florian Engert, who imaged all the neurons in the zebrafish brain, used this picture at the end of his talk at CSHL Synapses last year when asking for suggestions on experiments.

[via Cian O’Donnell]

Monday open thread: Is tool development slowing down?

My institution is on the hunt for a new neuroscience faculty member or two and the past two weeks have seen ten candidates come and go. All of them are doing awesome science, but what struck me was the lack of people making new tools or techniques. The institution I am at likes to think of themselves as quite cutting edge, so I had assumed that I was going to report to everyone on what the hot themes and tools were. Instead, only one candidate was working on a new tool. I’m not even looking for something fantastically new, really: a new statistical analysis or a new take on an imaging set-up (SPIM?) would have made me happy.

After seeing plenty of new things in faculty talks the last few years, I have to wonder: is tool development slowing down? Were the last few years the tail end of a transient boom of channelrhodopsin etc? Are we in the ‘exploit the tools’ cycle before another round hits? Or was my observation just a fluke?

Oh, and if anyone was wondering, apparently 50% of all neuroscientists live in Cambridge, MA. Who knew?