The Lecture, illustrated the enabling power of optogenetics with recent work on the homeostatic regulation of sleep. Optogenetic interventions have helped to pinpoint neurons whose sleep-inducing activity switches on as sleep deficits accrue, reveal how this activity switch works, and furnish a molecular interpretation of sleep pressure, its accumulation, and its discharge.
The Francis Crick Lecture is named in honour of LMB Nobel Laureate Francis Crick. It is one of a series of named lectures organised by the LMB to be given by eminent scientists from around the world.
Gero is Waynflete Professor of Physiology and founding Director of the Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour at the University of Oxford. In 2002, Gero established the principles of optogenetic control and thereby defined a new, now widely used, approach for probing the function of the nervous system. He was the first scientist to modify neurons genetically so that their electrical activity could be controlled with light. This involved inserting DNA for light-responsive opsin proteins into the cells.
Gero used similar genetic modifications to breed animals whose brains contained light-responsive neurons integrated into their circuitry, and was the first to demonstrate that the behaviour of these animals could be remote-controlled. He continues to use optogenetics in his current research, which centres on the biophysics of temporal information processing in decision-making and the regulation of sleep.
Gero studied medicine at the University of Innsbruck in his native Austria and did postdoctoral research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He was on the faculty of Yale University before joining the University of Oxford in 2007.
His awards for his invention of optogenetics include the InBev-Baillet Latour International Health Prize (2012), The Brain Prize (2013), and the Massry Prize (2016). He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 2015, and is a member of the German and Austrian Academies of Science.