Gene-based magneto-fluorescent tattoo

Hello everyone,

I discovered recently the grinder movement through a French book on Body-Hacking and the Verge article. It lead me to learn a lot about the practical aspects of body modification, as well as the existence of the iGEM contest thanks to Lukas. On the 2011 edition website, I saw a team from the Taipei NYMUniversity who wanted to deal with the invasiveness associated with opto-genetics by using magneto-fluorescence.

As show below, opto-genetics allows to control the firing of neurons with light via opsins but you need to insert an optic fibre into the brain.
The core of the Taipei team's work is a magneto-fluorophore (MF) that converts varying magnetic fields into light to activate the nearby neurons' opsins. Its structure show below is constituted of a magnetic particle (brown) linked to two transmembrane proteins (H1-H2) supporting complementary fluorescent emitters. When the cell is subjected to a magnetic field, it tugs on the magnetic particle that gets the emitters together and induces light emission.
I think that this artificial compound could be the basis for a magneto-fluorescent tattoo, with at least three variants :
  • Use as if the modified magneto-tactic bacteria designed by the team, since they can infiltrate human cells without killing them and produce MFs on their surface. If the emission wavelength is chosen to be inside the domain of minimum absorbance for the skin, we should see the skin glow and glitter depending of the strength and variations of the surrounding EM field.
  • Use only the gene coding for the MF with a simpler transfection vector.
  • Inject an adequate opsin gene around the nearest nerves in addition to the MFs, so that we obtain a complete sensory circuit (EM field => MF => opsin => nerve => brain) probably more sensitive and precise than a magnetic implant.
I recognize that the tech level needed is still a little high, but this technique seems to have potential and all the experimental protocol is detailed on the team's website.


  • Now THIS sounds interesting. ",)
  • Thanks!

    It occurred to me that using an opsin with an activation wavelength lying inside the minimum absorbance domain of the dermis (either IR/red or UV) could render the skin weakly photosensitive via the activation of the underlying nerves. Said activation wavelength lies between 450 (blue) and 600nm (red) and some opsins can react in less than 10ms, making real-time sensations possible.
    Of course, you won't get any real focused image without an array of lenses on top... And this just gave me the idea of a "Third Eye" device for the blind, constituted of a gem-like micro-lens array fixed above an opsin-photosensitive portion of the forehead skin.
    Thanks to cerebral plasticity, this device could have the same kind of resolution (200*200 pixels in B&W) as the camera+tongue stimulator combo developed a few years ago.
    To finish this long message, I found an Open Optogenetics Wiki that is a real treasure trove on all the experimental aspects of this very promising technique.
  • Hmmm... highly unscientific sensation tests (me touching my forehead with stuff) doesn't immediately rule it out - but then, I'm not sure what the minimum info density needed is.

    You do realize you've just killed my whole weekend with that link, right? ",)
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