Electrophysiology: Getting rid of the artists

In this nice open-access (ie. free!) essay in October’s PLoS Biology, David Kleinfeld and Oliver Griesbeck describe the revolution in neural recording that is taking electrophysiology from the realm of dark-arts (lots of training) to simpler genetically-encoded, imaging-based techniques. A lot of ground is covered in the article, including the creation of many new colors of fluorescent proteins (XFPs) that can be genetically targeted and the tagging of the XFPs with Ca, voltage, and pH sensors. A nice summary table is included comparing the techniques too:

XFP indicator tables

As you have likely noticed, Bayle and I post heavily about these new recording techniques because of our strong belief that a lot of neuroscience will be enabled by improving our ability to stimulate and record from entire networks of neurons with high resolution. Yesterday, I was listening to one of the many recent neuroscience talks here at MIT in which philosopher Pat Churchland suggested, as many others also have, that the problem of consciousness might be more of an artifact of primitive science than an actual scientific problem. She made a very nice analogy with a problem from centuries ago when scientists were unsure about the existence of life forces and what precisely made an animal alive. Of course, with modern cell biology, we now have a cellular theory of life, disease, and death. (To be fair, Churchland went on to say that people like Christof, Crick et al. are misguided in attempting to study neural correlates of consciousness. I completely disagree with that; at the very least, those scientists are helping to extend our understanding of the visual system and the difference between perception that we are aware of [conscious] and perception that has a neural correlate but that we are not aware of [unconscious]. Honestly, who cares if they say they’re studying consciousness or not — make a judgement based on the science.)

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