Church of the Holy Laser

I enter the church and take my seat among the faithful. The priest flips a switch, and the chapel is bathed in a sea of multicolored lasers, sending the worshippers into a deep, healing, unified, spiritual state.

That is the science fiction future a neurotheologist would invent based on the intriguing research reported in the latest issue of Cell Magazine, in a paper entitled Remote Control of Fruit Fly Behavior.

Dumping the awkward electrodes and transcranial magnetic stimulation devices of the past, the researchers implanted a rat gene into a fly, programmed to function only in the neuron of the fly, and to turn itself on only in the presence of a chemical called ATP. They then engineered a “caged” version of ATP which would not affect the neuron unless released by a flash of ultraviolet light.

Zapped with a laser, the re-engineered flies, even after being cruelly decapitated, jumped up and started flapping their wings (the neuron in question was not in the brain, but a “fiber neuron” extending the length of the fly’s body).

In the church of the future, then, baptism will be your injection with the bioengineered God-genes. Sacrament will be the priest placing on your tongue the drug that activates them. Prayer will be soaking yourself in the ultraviolet light that brings them to life.

See also An Off-and-On Switch for Controlling Animals? in the NYT.

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