We may believe that our genetic programming is a permanent factor in our physical state of being, yet more and more research is proving that our genes can in fact be altered by complex interactions between genetics, our environment, diet and lifestyle.

Those are physical factors, but could genes really be influenced by mind power?

Scientists at ETH Zurich claim to have created a mind-control system that can actually alter genes through the power of thought alone.The research was conducted using volunteers who attempted to alter genes in rodents, using technology constructed with the most advanced forms of cybernetics and synthetic biology. Wearing a wireless headset that monitored brainwaves sent to an implant in a mouse, the participants were able to affect the amount of proteins generated by genes in the mice using the power of their minds alone.

The results of the study, which were published in the journal Nature Communications, described how volunteers were required to meditate or concentrate whilst wearing a headset that detected their brainwaves. Brainwave data was then transmitted to a receiving unit that was able to determine the individual’s frame of mind, and the relevant signal used to control an electromagnetic field generated by a platform on which was placed the target rodent.

The gene-altering effects were achieved by changing the wearer’s state of mind from concentration to relaxation or vice-versa, and with a little practice, the volunteers were able to turn the rodents’ genes on and off at will. The physiological consequences of this meant that blood protein levels could be raised or lowered in the mice remotely via mind control.

Genes are the templates for all the proteins required within the body to make and maintain healthy cells; disruptions to this process can cause, or be caused by, various diseases. Therefore the implications for the treatment of disease using this new technology is profound: the researchers hope that this will pave the way for a new system that could monitor brainwaves, detect imbalances early, and automatically release the appropriate medication into the bloodstream to address the problem.

There have not yet been any human studies, but project leader Martin Fussenegger, a bioengineer at ETH Zurich, is hopeful that the treatment can be trialled in humans suffering from chronic pain or epilepsy within the next five years.

“We’re familiar with prosthetic devices, such as artificial hearts and replacement hips, but we’ve not transferred the concept to the molecular world,” said Fussenegger. “This is where I believe our mind-control device could set an example. If I’m right, which is far from certain, this could change the treatment strategies of the future.

“We’ve learned how to rearrange atoms into chemical structures and there are good success stories about using chemicals as drugs to treat diseases. But for me, using chemicals to treat bodies that are mostly about proteins controlling proteins has its limits. We want a device that does it all in the body, that interfaces with the physiology of the body.”

Does this research provide some the scientific proof for the concept of "mind over matter," the placebo effect, or even spiritual healing?

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