Sunday, August 05, 2012

Feng Zhang - Dissecting the Brain, One Gene at a Time

This is a cool and geeky neuroscience video from the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology (IEET) on how we are beginning to understand the structure and function of the brain from the neuron on up to systems - mostly as a result of new technologies.

The material in this video is available in much greater depth in The Imprinted Brain: How Genes Set the Balance of the Mind Between Autism and Psychosis by Christopher Badcock (2009). Here is the publisher's description of the book:
"The Imprinted Brain" sets out a radical new theory of the mind and mental illness based on the recent discovery of genomic imprinting. Imprinted genes are those from one parent that, in that parent's interest, are expressed in an offspring rather than the diametrically opposed genes from the other parent. For example, a higher birth weight may represent the dominance of the father's genes in leading to a healthy child, whereas a lower birth weight is beneficial to the mother's immediate wellbeing, and the imprint of the mother's genes will result in a smaller baby. According to this view, a win for the father's genes may result in autism, whereas one for the mother's may result in psychosis. A state of equilibrium - normality - is the most likely outcome, with a no-win situation of balanced expression. Imprinted genes typically produce symptoms that are opposites of each other, and the author uses psychiatric case material to show how many of the symptoms of psychosis can be shown to be the mental mirror-images of those of autism. Combining psychiatry with insights from modern genetics and cognitive science, Christopher Badcock explains the fascinating imprinted brain theory to the reader in a thorough but accessible way. This new theory casts some intriguing new light on other topics as diverse as the nature of genius, the appeal of detective fiction, and the successes - and failures - of psychoanalysis. This thought-provoking book is a must-read for anyone with an interest in autism, psychiatry, cognitive science or psychology in general.

And now, the feature presentation:

Dissecting the Brain, One Gene at a Time

Feng Zhang

Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
Posted: Aug 5, 2012

Table of Contents

00:00 - Introduction
00:44 - Structure of the brain
03:45 - Developing new tools with synthetic biology
05:35 - Current methods of neuron stimulation

09:10 - New method: using light to control neurons

15:31 - Demonstration: neuron control in a mouse

17:07 - Controlling the dopamine system of a mouse

20:06 - Tracing genetic mutations to mental disease
21:50 - Molecular tools for studying mutations

29:29 - Using genome editors to repair mutations

33:54 - Applying genome editors outside of medicine

35:30 - Conclusion

36:30 - Q&A

Analyzing patterns of gene activity during brain development will surely transform scientists’ understanding of neuropsychiatric diseases. In his 2012 Midsummer Nights’ Science lecture, Feng Zhang discusses the invention of novel technologies for genome engineering, and for manipulating activities of different cell types, including neurons. Current applications of these techniques include molecular investigations of processes as diverse as motor function, the reward system, and sleep.


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