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Scientists successfully transfer memories between two snails

17 May 2018, 12:47 | Franklin Nunez

RNA Moves a Memory From One Snail to Another

David Glanzman

In one of the most progressive memory studies to date, researchers from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) have managed to transfer memories between sea snails, ScienceDaily reports.

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. RNAs are effectively the messenger that carry out the instructions coded into our DNA.

In an experiment, researchers inflicted painless electric shocks to sea snails known as Aplysia californica. They injected this RNA into snails that had not been shocked. But when the team tapped another, shock-free group, those slugs only shied away for about one second. Those that had received the shock group's RNA responded nearly exactly like the shock group: They recoiled for about 40 seconds.

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.

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

Tsai, who recently co-authored a major review on memory formation, called Glanzman's study "impressive and interesting" and said a number of studies support the notion that epigenetic mechanisms play some role in memory formation, which is likely a complex and multifaceted process. This means that the snails usually contract in order to protect themselves. But the ones injected with RNA from the trained snails?

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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. 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. See, some researchers think memories are stored in the synapses (the spaces between nerve cells).

A new study strongly suggests that at least some memories are stored in genetic code, and that genetic code can act like memory soup.

Scientists know more about the cell biology of this simple form of learning in this animal than any other form of learning in any other organism, Glanzman said.

Yes, sea snails may have 20,000 neurons - a paltry sum compared to humans' 100 billion.

Unlike these setups, which tend to look at how the neuron networks themselves are involved in memory, Glanzman's group is using RNA to tinker with memory. He and his colleagues published research in the journal eLife in 2014 indicating that lost memories can be restored.

There's been a long-simmering debate in neuroscience about whether the essential units of memory are stored primarily in the "transcriptome" (the long molecules inside cells also used to record genes) or the "connectome" (the network of links between nerve cells).



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