Health Care

Scientists Say They've Transplanted a Memory From One Snail to Another

Scientists Say They've Transplanted a Memory From One Snail to Another”

UCLA biologists report they have transferred a memory from one marine snail to another, creating an artificial memory, by injecting RNA from one to another. Tomas Ryan, who studies memory at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, opined that, as impressive as their study may be, the UCLA team didn't actually transfer a memory, but rather a basic behavioral response that triggered the defense mechanism in the untrained snails.

When the RNA was inserted into snails that had not undergone this process, they behaved just as if they had been sensitised.

For decades, researchers have tried to pinpoint how, when, and where memories form.

That is, until researchers injected ribonucleic acid (RNA) from the trained snails into the second group.

The researchers administered five electric shocks to the training group of snails, one every 20 minutes. These shocks were said to enhance the withdrawal reflex of the snail, a defensive contraction it displays to protect itself from a potential threat.

According to the BBC, the team observed that sensitized snails had a defensive contraction of up to 50 seconds, whereas the specimens that weren't familiar with the electric shock only contracted for about a second.

The shocked snails had been "sensitised" to the stimulus. Soon after, the RNA from the subject was extracted and injected into another sea snail to see what happened.

The experiment revealed that the recipients of the "memory transplant" contracted for about 40 seconds when tapped, suggesting that the RNA injections had transferred the memory of the electric shock to the unsensitized snails.

"These are marine snails and when they are alarmed they release a lovely purple ink to hide themselves from predators".

"So, these snails are alarmed and release ink, but they aren't physically damaged by the shocks", he explained. 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. Another camp believed memories were stored in the nuclei of neurons.

Much more research awaits, but for now, these results suggest that at least some kinds of memory could be modified using RNA, and it brings researcher closer to an overall understanding of the physical traces of memory in the nervous system.

The type of RNA relevant to these findings is believed to regulate a variety functions in the cell involved with the development and disease.

Researchers say the cells and molecular processes of snails are similar to that of humans.

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.

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