In 2013 Professor Miesenböck was awarded The Brain Prize "for the invention and refinement of optogenetics." He was the first scientist who modified nerve cells genetically to produce light-responsive pigments. By shining light on the pigment-producing cells he caused them to become electrically active. The function of the nerve cells could thus be influenced remotely, using flashes of light instead of direct electrical connections. He was also the first to use the technique of optogenetics to remote-control the behaviour of an animal, which he had bred to contain light-sensitive nerve cells in its brain.
His research group studies the elementary logic of information processing in the brain. Animals do not employ an endless variety of brain circuits but rather a limited set: circuits that compare signals, apply thresholds, integrate information; oscillators that keep time, buffers that hold the intermediates of computation, memory to write to and read from. Researchers can identify these circuits in behavioural tests, delineate their wiring diagrams, and dissect how they work. Much of the group's research is done in fruit flies, where it is possible to gain detailed insight into molecular, cellular, and physiological mechanisms of brain function that relate directly to human health.
- Neural control of behaviour
- Technological innovation in research
Professor Miesenboeck has extensive media experience, including worldwide print and broadcast.