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Why optogenetics deserves the hype

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Optogenetics has come in for some stick lately, with a number of people criticising the hype that this technique generates in some quarters. That’s fair enough, I suppose – there have no doubt been some claims made about what can be accomplished with this technique that are, at the very least, premature. I’m all for bashing hype (see The Trouble with Epigenetics 1 and 2, for example), but criticising the technique for what it’s not good for seems to be missing the point to me.

To me, optogenetics will revolutionise neuroscience. It is the tool that will finally let us meaningfully integrate the cellular with the systems level. Not by itself, of course – we’ll still need all the electrophysiology and pharmacology and neuroimaging and lesion studies and model organisms and whatever you’re having yourself. And not without some teething problems and over-interpretation of early findings, which will no doubt earn more tongue-lashings from the hype-police. But it will let us ask questions w…