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15 May 2018, 05:32 | Melissa Porter
WIKIMEDIA GENNY ANDERSON
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. It's a breakthrough which the biologists believe could one day lead to us being able to delete traumatic memories, or even bring back memories we thought were lost.
Typically when we think of memory, the consensus is that memories are encoded in connections between our brain cells, but neurobiologist David Glanzman is of the opinion that RNA actually holds the key.
The type of RNA relevant to these findings is believed to regulate a variety functions in the cell involved with the development and disease. They used small electric shocks to sea sails called Aplysia californica.
Once the reflex action had been established in the trained snails, they were euthanised and their abdominal ganglia removed.
When the researchers subsequently tapped the snails, they found those that had been given the shocks displayed a defensive contraction lasting about 50 seconds, while those that had not received the shocks contracted for only about one second.
A team of neuroscientists have managed to find a way to transfer memories from one individual to another via injection, but only in snails so far.
The scientists injected the RNA from the sensitized group into seven snails that had not received any shocks. After these shocks were administered. the snail's defensive withdrawal reflex - where the snails contract in order to protect themselves from harm.
Rather than transferring what we think of as a memory, the team transferred something called an RNA or ribonucleic acid.
Next, the researchers added RNA to Petri dishes containing neurons extracted from different snails that did not receive shocks.
The shocked snails had been "sensitised" to the stimulus.
When a marine snail is given electric tail shocks, its sensory neurons become more excitable.
"If memories were stored at synapses, there is no way our experiment would have worked", Glanzman told the BBC. "While the Aplysia is a fantastic model for studying basic neuroscience, we must be very careful in drawing comparisons to human memory processes, which are much more complex".
eNeuro, the Society for Neuroscience's open-access journal launched in 2014, publishes rigorous neuroscience research with double-blind peer review that masks the identity of both the authors and reviewers, minimizing the potential for implicit biases. As a result, researchers used RNA, which is part of the epigenetic modification and part of the process of forming long-term memory.
The research was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Science Foundation.
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