Scientists Have Transferred A Memory From One Snail To Another
Scientists Have Transferred A Memory From One Snail To Another
Aplysia californica also known as the California sea hare Credit Genny Anderson CC by 4.0
15 May, 2018, 17:28
Scientists have successfully transferred a memory from one marine snail to another - but there's still a long way to go until you can pay someone to wipe unpleasant memories or implant new ones a la Total Recall, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
"What we are talking about are very specific kinds of memories, not the sort that says what happened to me on my fifth birthday, or who is the president of the United States", said Glanzman, whose study appears in the journal eNeuro.
The scientists believe the information could provide clues to where memories are physically stored and how they can be altered.
The type of RNA relevant to these findings is believed to regulate a variety functions in the cell involved with the development and disease.
David Glanzman tested the possibility that RNA from a trained California sea hare (Aplysia californica) can be used to create an engram - the elusive substrate of memory - in an untrained animal of the same species. When Glanzman repeated the experiment with RNA from sea snails that had been hooked up to wires but not shocked, the reflex behaviour did not transfer. After around 24 hours the snails had developed an instinctual reaction to recoil when being tapped on the tail. Those that had not been given the shocks contracted for only about one second.
The researchers extracted RNA, which was accumulated in the nervous system of animals after the shocks, and not sensitized. When they were shocked, the snails that weren't injected with RNA curled for only a few seconds, the way all snails do when they haven't been trained. On the other hand, those that did not receive shocks had a defensive contraction that lasted for only one second.
Rather than transferring what we think of as a memory, the team transferred something called an RNA or ribonucleic acid.
As expected, the control group of snails did not display the lengthy contraction. Some dishes had RNA from marine snails that had been given electric tail shocks, and some dishes contained RNA from snails that had not been given shocks. Researchers also know more about the biology of sensitization in marine snails than any other animal. Adding RNA from a marine snail that was not given the tail shocks did not produce this increased excitability in sensory neurons. The team found that the snail synapses built to "store" a memory weren't necessarily the synapses that were removed from the neural circuits in the memory-erasing experiments.
"If memories were stored at synapses, there is no way our experiment would have worked", he said, the BBC reported.
Professor Glanzman said in future it might be possible to awaken and restore memories that have gone dormant in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, or ameliorate the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. But scientists have been studying sea snails for a long time, and they know an very bad lot about how the organisms learn.
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