Yes – what seemed far-fetched sci-fi plots is now a reality, if, for the time being, only for mice.
‘The researchers used optogenetics, a technique that allows precise control of brain circuits. The control is achieved by expressing proteins that act as switches in particular types of brain cells. These switches are channels that, when struck by a particular color of light, allow charged particles into or out of the neurons, which will either activate or silence them.’
‘Armed with this discovery, they installed the optogenetic trigger in the neurons that were especially busy while a mouse got to know a new environment (we’ll call that Place A). The next day, in a different environment, they gave the mouse small electric shocks while triggering the memory of Place A using light. After that, even though it never had a negative experience in Place A itself, the mouse froze when it was returned there.’
What the researchers did was to target a memory of ‘place A’, where the mice had no unpleasant experience, at a later date and use a blue light and electric shock to change that neutral memory into a terrifying one.
Think of that next time you feel a strong aversion to something or an unspecified feeling of uneasiness – and keep the light-reflecting tinfoil hats on!