In a scientific first, researchers claim to have transferred memories between sea snails by injecting RNA from a trained sea snail into one that hasn't been trained - and observing the trained response in the second snail.
The sea hare is a well understood model species in neurobiological studies, with a pedigree reaching back to Nobel laureate E. R. Kandel's research on learning and memory in the 1960s.
However, speaking with The Guardian, Tomás Ryan, a studier of memory at Trinity College Dublin, is not exactly convinced that Glanzman and his team have demonstrated an ability to transfer what we consider a personal memory.
Scientists have long believed memories were stored in synapses. This priming component is still unknown, but the process seems to involve epigenetic modification - something RNA is heavily involved in. The UCLA team suggests their research might one day allow us to, as the study states, "modify, enhance, or depress memories". He found the recipient sea snails became sensitised, suggesting the "memory" of the electrical shocks had been transplanted. They used small electric shocks to sea sails called Aplysia californica.
The snails' reflex to retreat into their shells was more pronounced - the defensive withdrawal reflex lasting up to 50 seconds.
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The researchers then injected the RNA from the group of snails who had been shocked into the group which hadn't.
What happened next was wonderful. (For a control, the team also took RNA from non-shocked snails and injected into naive snails.) When tapped on the siphon 24 hours later, snails that got RNA from shocked snails withdrew their siphon and gill for significantly longer (almost 40 seconds) than did snails that got RNA from non-shocked animals (less than 10 seconds).
Meanwhile, the untrained snails who had received RNA from untrained donors did not exhibit any change in their defensive response.
Prof David Glanzman, one of the authors, from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), said the result was "as though we transferred the memory".
WIKIMEDIA, GENNY ANDERSONResearchers have transferred a memory from one snail to another via RNA, they report today (May 14) in eNeuro.
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More tests in petri dishes showed that the RNA from trained snails showed that their sensory neurons were more excited than the ones of the untrained snails.
And, of course, the RNA of untrained snails didn't have this effect on the sensory neurons.
Traditionally, long-term memories were thought to be stored at the brain's synapses, the junctions between nerve cells. Instead, Glanzman believes they may be storied in the nuclei of neurons, a theory that needs more study to be definitively shown. See, some researchers think memories are stored in the synapses (the spaces between nerve cells).
"In a field like this which is so full of dogma, where we are waiting for people to retire so we can move on, we need as many new ideas as possible", he said. Seralynne Vann from Cardiff University in the United Kingdom made an interesting point about the chances of applying a similar technique in the study of human memory.
For decades, researchers have tried to pinpoint how, when, and where memories form. So, Glanzman and his team researched if they can transfer long-term memory through the molecule.
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