Neuroscience Breakthrough Harbors Dark Side

By R.S. Bailey


 Often, the most significant scientific breakthroughs conceived for the benefit of mankind continue their development with ominous uses.  Prominent among these was Alfred Nobel’s invention of dynamite.  Conceived as a tool to aid in earth moving, tunneling, road building and such; it became the most destructive weapon of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The massive income fostered so much guilt in Nobel that he instituted the fund for the Nobel Prizes, making the Peace Prize the greatest of them all.


 New developments in biotechnology being made at Stanford University are suggesting equally dark possibilities for uses in the 21st century.  Among them is optogenetics.  According to a recent article in Scientific American optogenetics is the combination of optics and genetic engineering “to control well-defined events within specific cells of living tissue.”  It offers a very exciting cure for Parkinson’s disease and a host of other syndromes that are the result of malfunctions within the brain. 


It involves splicing the genes from light responsive algae into specific areas of a brain.  So far algae responsive to blue, yellow, and dark red light have been used.  The light sensitive part of their DNA is attached to a benign virus and delivered to a specific area of the brain.  Optical fibers are then inserted and light is pulsed in to activate the cells. 


 The technique has been successfully applied to mice.  Stanford scientists “optogenetically drove well-defined dopamine neurons in the mouse.”  In short, a mouse was trained to go to a specific area and once there a pleasure receptor was stimulated.  Naturally the mouse returns to that area to repeat the experience.


 The first delivery system for the light was lasers.  It was large and cumbersome.  Now, Kendall Research, a company in Massachusetts associated with MIT, has developed a small device weighing 3 grams that replaces the lasers with LEDs and can be controlled wirelessly. 


 In reporting the development, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal briefly alluded to Orwellian possibilities.  But George Orwell never dreamed of anything like this.  Orwell was worried about education and the media’s uses in mind control.  Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World added genetic engineering and drugs to the mix.   Several science fiction writers in the 1950’s explored these nefarious possibilities.  Now we truly face the question of what might happen if irresponsible engineers, instead of responsible scientists, start developing applications in optogenetics. 


 What happens when the light sensitive genes are spliced directly into DNA and grown from scratch?   What kind of slave race of apes, humans, or some new life form are we potentially looking at when an Ian Flemming style villain of a genetic engineer goes to work?   What about some weird third world dictator or mad capitalist who wants to grow his own army or working class?


 What happens when optogenetic devices are prescribed for use with Attention Deficit Syndromes instead of Ritalin?  It is a short step to having a virus carrying the light sensitive material delivered to unsuspecting people in the plethora of vaccines being administered on a regular basis with the government’s encouragement. 



                           Karl Deisseroth Speaking at SFN 2009 from Deisseroth Lab 


As the police are already arresting parents who don’t want their children to receive needless vaccines, the possibility has to be faced that implantation of an optogenetic device into the brain can be forced on someone who has had light sensitive material implanted into their brain during childhood vaccinations.  Could this become an inexpensive way to control the kind of unacceptable behavior that results from overpopulation?


 The only limitation is the delivery system.  The vectoring viruses can already be targeted to specific areas of the brain.  The only obstacle to be overcome for massive mind control is the implantation of the optical fibers.   What happens if some clever scoundrel figures out how to grow them genetically as well?  The possibilities are endless and currently present fertile ground for science fiction theorists. 


 Human testing is five years away.




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