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Susan Young Rojahn

A View from Susan Young Rojahn

Radio-Controlled Genes

Radio waves can be used to activate calcium-sensitive genes by heating injected nanoparticles.

  • May 7, 2012

Nature News reported on Friday that radio waves can activate genes in modified mice.

The study, published in Science, shows that radio waves can be used to trigger calcium flow into a cell, thus activating calcium-sensitive genes. The flow of calcium was controlled by a temperature-sensitive protein called TRPV1.

This protein functions as a gated channel; when heated to 42 °C, the otherwise closed channel opens. By injecting mice with iron-oxide-coated nanoparticles designed to seek out a modified TRPV1, the study’s authors were able to use otherwise harmless radio waves to generate the necessary local heat. The radio waves did not harm exposed cells.

Two years ago, a different group of researchers published a study showing the remote control of temperature-sensitive channel proteins by radio waves in nematodes (roundworms). In that work, the researchers were able to modify the behavior of the worms with the radio waves.

The methodology is far from practical so far, but in theory it could be tweaked to control other proteins or used to regulate other calcium-dependent processes, such as muscle contraction or neuron-to-neuron communication. 

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