Recently, researchers from the University of Virginia discovered that they could control brain activity in mice using a magnet and altering their behavior.
For a group of mice, magnetic mind control has never felt so good.
According to Live Science, “Using this technique, the team manipulated the mice’s specific movements, causing them to spin around, run, and even freeze and lose control of their extremities.”
The magnetic field appears to pull the strings of the brain via an internal ion protein channel called TRPV4 that responds to external magnets. TRPV4 is a thermosensor, activated by temperatures greater than 24–27 °C, also can be activated by osmotic, mechanical, and chemical cues.
“This is, to our knowledge, the first demonstration of bona fide magnetic control of the nervous system.
With a few more genetic tweaks, the resulting hybrid protein, dubbed Magneto, proved to be viable and responsive to magnetic fields in cells,” said lead scientist, Ali Güler.
Magneto is described as a “magnetically sensitive actuator comprising the cation channel TRPV4 fused to the paramagnetic protein ferritin capable of “remotely controlling circuits associated with complex animal behaviors.”
This could help scientists pinpoint the specific brain circuits animals use for certain behaviors, which could in turn help scientists pinpoint with greater accuracy which brain areas are involved in those same behaviors in humans, said Arnd Pralle, a biophysicist at the University at Buffalo in New York.
So, how does magnetic mind-controlled mice actually work?
Apparently, mice have a built-in “magnetic compass,” just like other animals, fish, and microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria.
Researchers have discovered that magnetic fields have the ability to pass through organic matter like skin and skulls to act like “wireless stimuli.” According to a 2019 study, “Magnetic Strategies for Nervous System Control;”
“Owing to the low conductivity and negligible magnetic susceptibility of organic matter, magnetic fields can pass through tissue undiminished and without producing harmful effects.
Their resulting ability to deliver stimuli wirelessly to targets of arbitrary depth in the body has motivated their use as a minimally invasive means to control neural activity.”
In some organisms, such as bacteria, trout, and mole rats, magnetic compasses seem to work like the one’s Girl, and Boy Scouts carry around, relaying direction via magnetic iron crystals that twist and turn like compass needles. But in other creatures, such as birds, there’s evidence for a totally different compass that relies on quantum processes.
According to theoretical models and computer simulations, light entering the eye activates certain proteins in the retina, temporarily ripping apart a pair of electrons in those proteins.
Separating the electrons makes them sensitive to magnetic fields, which “sets up a particular chemical reaction [that’s] essentially a switch,” said Ritz.