Let me settle you down a little after the headline above. We’re only talking about the ability to have remote control over the behavior of worms here, and merely getting them to recoil at that.But it is true that researchers at the University of Buffalo have managed to attach nanoparticles to the cell membranes of worms and then heat those nanoparticles up by exposing them to a magnetic field. The heat then opens up calcium ion channels in the cells, which in turn activates neurons, causing the worms to recoil (see video below).
Now before some NGOs get the wrong end of the stick on this one and start dreaming up dark scenarios of nanotechnology controlling the minds of both man and beast, the purpose of this research is not only to better understand the signaling networks controlling animal behavior but also for developing better cancer treatments and diabetes therapies. The idea being that if the nanoparticles can be made to target certain cells (like cancer cells) it may be possible to heat them up with the magnetic field and kill them.As attractive as this specific targeting of cancer cells sounds, I am always a bit leery of this kind of treatment after reading George Whitesides’ succinct point on this subject “Cancer cells are abnormal cells, but they’re still us."