Rice University just democratized optogenetics with an open-source platform

A breakthrough bioengineering method just got a lot more accessible thanks to a team at Rice University. Graduate student Karl Gerhardt, Professor Jeff Tabor, and students in Tabor’s lab have created the Light Plate Apparatus (LPA), the simplest and most inexpensive optogenetics platform available.

Optogenetics is a relatively new research technique that uses light to control genetically engineered cells. By modifying the cells to contain certain photoreceptors, scientists are able to regulate, monitor, and measure their activity — particularly the firing of neurons — even in live organisms.

“These breakthroughs have revolutionized how neuroscientists study the link between neuron function and behavior,” Tabor told Digital Trends. “In the last several years, there has been an explosion of engineered photoreceptors to control non-neuronal processes, such as gene expression, in a wide range of model organisms such as bacteria, yeast, and mammalian tissue culture cells. Much like neuroscience, these tools promise to revolutionize our understanding of how biochemical networks control the cell — the fundamental unit of life.”

“We believe the LPA will enable virtually any biological laboratory to perform cutting edge optogenetics experiments with ease.”

While working with bacteria in Tabor’s lab, Gerhardt and his team lacked flexible and easy-to-use optogenetics instruments suited for non-neural study. “All of the instruments that had previously been published were mostly cobbled together in individual laboratories for specific photoreceptors, organisms, and experiments and then abandoned,” Tabor says. “They were also either closed source, expensive, or lacked documentation that would enable other groups to build them in their own laboratories.”

So Gerhardt decided to create an instrument for his own purpose — and make it open source.

The LPA is compatible with all genetically engineered photoreceptors in all non-neural model organisms, according to Tabor. The hardware is “plug and play,” — or perhaps print and play — meaning there’s little assembly required. The software can be downloaded for free and set up in under a day, even by a non-expert. The final cost is just $150 for users with a 3D printer or under $400 for those without.

“Over the years, many biologists have approached us and said they would love to incorporate optogenetics into their research,” Tabor says, “but [they] don’t have the know how to build the necessary optical hardware. We believe the LPA will enable virtually any biological laboratory to perform cutting-edge optogenetics experiments with ease. This could transform our understanding of the biochemical networks that regulate the cell and have applications in optimizing pathways for biotechnology.”

Almost a dozen international research groups have already printed and deployed LPAs, according to Tabor, with more to come. A paper describing the platform was published last week in Scientific Reports (A Nature Publishing Group open-access journal).

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: heat-powered watches, phone cases with reflexes

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Scientists find a technique to identify electricity-producing bacteria

A new development could allow microbes to be used to run fuel cells and purify sewage water. An MIT team has developed a new microfluidic technique which can process samples of bacteria to see if they are able to produce electricity.
Emerging Tech

New research could allow fast diagnosis of viruses like Ebola and Zika

A new development in molecular biology is a step towards instant diagnosis of viruses like Ebola or Zika. Researchers have found a way to use a mobile device to identify plant viruses and potentially animal and human viruses too.
Cars

Self-driving, electric, and connected, the cars of CES 2019 hint at the future

Car companies remained surprisingly quiet during CES 2018. But they spoke up in 2019. From electric hatchbacks you can buy in 2019 to super-futuristic mood-detecting technology, here are the major announcements we covered during the event.
Emerging Tech

Why wait? Here are some CES 2019 gadgets you can buy right now

Companies come to CES to wow us with their cutting edge technology, but only a few products are slated to hit the market right away. Here is our list of the best CES 2019 tech you can buy right now.
Emerging Tech

Drones: New rules could soon allow flights over people and at night

With commercial operators in mind, the U.S. government is looking to loosen restrictions on drone flights with a set of proposals that would allow the machines greater freedom to fly over populated areas and also at night.
Emerging Tech

Yamaha’s new app lets you tune your motorcycle with a smartphone

It used to be that if you wanted to tune your motorcycle’s engine and tweak its performance, you needed specialized tools and even more specialized knowledge. Yamaha’s new Power Tuner app changes that.
Emerging Tech

Short film celebrates New Yorker’s amazing robot costumes

New York City resident Peter Kokis creates stunning robot costumes out of household trash. His designs are huge, heavy, and extremely intricate, and never fail to turn heads when he's out and about.
Emerging Tech

In a first for humankind, China is growing plants on the moon

Having recently landed a probe on the far side of the moon, China announced that it managed to grow the first plant on the moon, too. Here's why that matters for deep space travel.
Emerging Tech

Ford’s sweaty robot bottom can simulate 10 years of seat use in mere days

Ford has developed 'Robutt,' a sweaty robot bottom that's designed to simulate the effects of having a pair of human buttocks sitting on its car seats for thousands of hours. Check it out.
Emerging Tech

CES 2019 recap: All the trends, products, and gadgets you missed

CES 2019 didn’t just give us a taste of the future, it offered a five-course meal. From 8K and Micro LED televisions to smart toilets, the show delivered with all the amazing gadgetry you could ask for. Here’s a look at all the big…
Emerging Tech

Want to know which drones are flying near you? There’s an app for that

Want to know what that mysterious drone buzzing over your head is up to? A new system developed by AirMap, Google Wing, and Kittyhawk.io could soon tell you -- via a map on your phone.
Emerging Tech

A Japanese hotel fires half its robot staff for being bad at their jobs

Japan’s oddball Henn na Hotel has fired half of its 243 robot staff. The reason? Because these labor-saving machines turned out to be causing way more problems than they were solving.
Emerging Tech

CERN plans to build a massive particle collider that dwarfs the LHC

CERN already has the world's biggest particle accelerator. Now it wants a bigger one. Meet the 9 billion euro Future Circular Collider that will allow physicists to extend their study of the universe and matter at the smallest level.