At Modern Luxury, connection and community define who we are. We use cookies to improve the Modern Luxury experience - to personalize content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyze our traffic. We also may share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. We take your privacy seriously and want you to be aware that we have recently made changes to our Privacy Policy, which can be found here.


Innovation Almanac: Stanford's Benign Mind Control

Ben Christopher | March 25, 2013 | Story Tech World

Imagine this: One day, doctors will treat disorders as diverse and debilitating as schizophrenia, depression, and Parkinson’s disease not by saturating the brain with blunt-force pharmaceuticals or zapping it with electroshock, but with the speed and precision of a light beam.

This new field, called optogenetics and pioneered by Stanford researcher Karl Deisseroth, begins with a long-understood premise: some algae and bacteria produce proteins that react to light. Deisseroth’s innovation, realized after nearly a decade of work alongside a dream team of Stanford biology, physics, and computer science grad students, was to select the genes that make those light-sensitive proteins and patch them onto certain brain cells of living lab rats. Implant a small laser on the critter’s brain, and those targeted neurons—and the behaviors they correspond to—can be turned on or off at the flip of a light switch.

Of course, dystopian scenarios are easy to imagine. In one experiment, an unfortunate rodent was compelled to run in a counter-clockwise circle, head aglow. But in another, a gang of rats were optogenetically prevented from acting on their cocaine addiction. In yet another, he managed to “turn off” a lab rat’s innate anxiety about open spaces. Better than Xanax, for sure, as long as you ignore the weird glow.

Read More of Our Innovation Almanac:
Stanford's Benign Mind Control
The Forever Clock
Bacteria Mapper
Fire Station Health Care

Cree: Building the Future
No More Double Clicking
A Friendlier Vibrator
Social Networking for Disaster Prep

Originally published in the April 2013 issue of San Francisco.

Have feedback? Email us at
Follow us on Twitter
Follow Ben Christopher @BenCAbbr


Photography by: