Scientists successfully transfer memories between two snails

RNA Moves a Memory From One Snail to Another

Glanzman said about the results, "It's as if we transferred a memory".

"It was completely arbitrary which synaptic connections got erased", Glanzman says.

Scientists have been able to transfer a memory from one snail to another, providing a tantalising clue to the answer of one of most vexing questions in biology - how are memories stored? This new study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

Many other scientists do not think the study shows a memory transplant, and point out that snails are vastly different than humans in their makeup and brain structure.

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Scientists applied electric shocks to the tails of a species of marine snail called Aplysia californica. The snails received five tail shocks, one every 20 minutes, and then five more 24 hours later. To their surprise, the new snails kept their siphons wrapped up much longer after a shock, nearly as if they'd been trained. "So these snails are alarmed and release ink, but they aren't physically damaged by the shocks", he said. Glanzman likens the reaction to being jumpy in the moments after an natural disaster: the memory of the event induces an involuntary reflex to any loud noise.

Once this initial phase of the experiment was completed, the researchers extracted RNA from the sensitized sea hare snails and injected it into untrained specimens. They held the pose for 40 seconds, as if they remembered how to respond to a stimulus, even though they had never encountered it before.

Study coauthor David Glanzman of the University of California, Los Angeles, has been working on the cell biology of learning and memory for almost 40 years, and says for the majority of that time he believed memory was stored at synapses. The injected critters did not show any signs of prolonged contractions.

David Glanzman, a professor at UCLA, and his colleagues also performed similar experiments on shocked and control snail neurons in Petri dishes, measuring how excitable they were. This produced "increased excitability" in the neurons, according to the UCLA statement, whereas RNA from un-shocked snails did not.

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"If memories were stored at synapses, there is no way our experiment would have worked".

The idea that RNA may be responsible for memory storage dates back to the 1950s.

The researchers see this result as a step towards alleviating the effects of diseases such as Alzheimer's or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

But other experts are not convinced.

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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. "This work tells me that maybe the most basic behavioural responses involve some kind of switch in the animal and there is something in the soup that Glanzman extracts that is hitting that switch".

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