By Prarthana Mitra
A team of scientists at UCLA have discovered how to transfer memories from one marine snail to another, a process they hope to soon replicate for human brains.
The new study, which was published Monday in the journal eNeuro, involved scientists training snails in one group to respond to a shock stimulus, a reaction that was later registered in another group of snails, upon injecting them with genetic information collected from the trained snails.
This scientific evidence exhibited by mollusc memory may prove to be instrumental in modifying, enhancing or depressing human memories in the not-so-distant future.
Here’s what happened
Two groups of sea snails, a species endowed with 20,000 neurones, as compared to humans’ 100 billion, were used for the purpose of this study. The researchers administered mild electric shocks to the tail of one group of snails repeatedly, which trained them to curl up in a defensive reaction for up to 50 seconds.
Upon injecting some ribonucleic acid from their DNA into the second group of snails, it was discovered that they functioned much like the former, when exposed to similar shocks. The snails that were neither untrained nor injected, curled up only for a second, unlike the ones that were injected, which contracted for 40 seconds or so. They behaved as if they remembered how to respond to a stimulus, even though they had never encountered it before. This could provide new clues in the search for the physical basis of memory, according to BBC.
Why you should care
This study debunks a traditional line of thought that memories are stored in synapses. Instead, the study proves that memories are stored in the nuclei of neurones. According to the study’s author David Glanzman, who spoke to BBC regarding the research, understanding how memories are stored is integral to the treatment of memory-related illnesses in humans. New ways to prevent, mitigate and even cure Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Alzheimer’s or amnesia, may even be in the offing.
Marine organisms function the same way mammals do, and their nerves transmit impulses the same way that humans do. Offering to retrieve and transfer some of the memory that has been lost, does not, however, ensure that human memories, which are much more detailed and extra-sensory, are captured in the fullest essence during the transplant.
That said, this study finally brings memory transplant from the domain of science fiction to a scientific possibility, the medical possibilities of which are endless.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.