When scientists succeed in transplanting memory into snails

Memory transfer is often a topic discussed in science fiction works. Now, a team has succeeded in transplanting memories by transferring a form of genetic information called RNA from one snail to another.

Snails are trained to develop defensive reactions. When RNA is introduced into snails that have not undergone this process, they behave as if they have been sensitized. The research published in the journal eNeuro may provide new clues in the search for the physical basis of memory. RNA stands for ribonucleic acid. It is a large molecule that is involved in a variety of important roles in biological organisms, including the assembly of proteins and the way genes are expressed more generally. Scientists administered a mild electric shock to the tail of a species of sea slug called Aplysia californica. After this shock was administered, the snail's defensive withdrawal reflex in which the slug contracted to protect itself from harm became more pronounced. When the researchers then tapped the slug, they found the slug that was given the shock showed a defensive contraction lasting about 50 seconds, while the slug that did not receive the shock only contract for about a second. The startled snail is "sensitive" to the stimulus.

The scientists extracted RNA from the nervous system of the slug that received the shock and injected it into a small number of sea slugs that had not been sensitized in this way. defensive for about 40 seconds.

They saw the same effect when they did the same on the sensory nerve cells studied in the petri dish. Prof David Glanzman, one of the authors, from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), said the result was as if we were transferring a memory. He also stressed that the snails were unharmed, "These are sea slugs and when they are alert they release purple ink. a beautiful place to hide from predators," he said.

Traditionally, long-term memories are thought to be stored at the brain's synapses, the junctions between nerve cells. Each neuron has several thousand synapses.

"If memories are stored at synapses, there's no way our experiment would have worked." said Prof. Glanzman.

The UCLA professor of integrative biology has a different view, he believes that memories are stored in the nucleus of neurons. This paper may support clues from research conducted decades ago that RNA is involved in memory. The types of RNA relevant to these findings are believed to regulate a variety of functions in cells involved with development and disease. The researchers say that the cell and molecular processes in sea slugs are similar to those in humans. Despite the fact that snails have around 20,000 neurons in their central nervous system and humans are estimated to have around 100 billion. Researchers see these results as a step towards reducing the effects of diseases such as Alzheimer's or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When asked whether this process would be conducive to the transplantation of memories established through life experience, Prof Glanzman was unsure, but he expressed optimism that a greater understanding of memory storage would lead to greater opportunities to explore different aspects of memory.

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