A team of researchers used blue light to turn almost a dozen mice into vicious killers. With the use of optogenetics, the scientists were able to manipulate the subjects’ neurons using photons in order to make the rather peaceful creatures go berserk.
The study’s author, Ivan de Araujo, an associate professor of psychiatry and physiology at Yale University and his team were trying to understand what parts of the brain are involved in triggering certain motor responses.
The findings were published earlier this week, in the journal Cell, on Thursday, January 12th. By exposing the mice population to a burst of blue light, the researchers were able to observe that their behavior drastically changed. Before the switch was on, the subjects avoided prey and toys scattered around their surroundings. However, once the blue light was on, the mice jumped at the crickets, as well as still and motorized toys resembling prey the first chance they got.
Interestingly enough, mice usually try to deliver a fatal blow to the head of its prey under normal circumstances. However, once the researchers applied the stimulus, the subjects viciously attacked anything that crossed their path, apart from other mice.
In order to trigger the killing instinct, the researchers equipped the subjects with a sensory device which was attached to the rodents’ heads and then turned on the blue light. In turn, the stimulus activated certain neurons that had been previously engineered to respond to light bursts.
Even though the experiments allowed the researchers to better understand how aggressive behavior, predatory, and killing instinct are triggered, the scientists say the survey has its limitations. A logical question would be if the technique could be applied to human in order to create better warriors. However, the study was only meant to observe motor functions and impulse to hunt, bite, and kill. Also, even though brain regions of human subjects are similar to those in mice or other animals, the scientists say optogenetics does not have military applications.
Furthermore, the scientists noted that mice only charged at bite-sized prey and avoided attacking other peers. Ultimately, while the bite force of the subjects was sufficient to kill before the blue light went on, the researchers discovered that the stimulus affected mice’s jaw muscles which were contracting more strongly, delivering a more powerful bite force.
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