Scientists successfully transfer memory from one snail to another

The California sea hare Aplysia californica. Credit Wikimedia Commons

There has been a thing called memory transfer in the bottom of the science fiction's heart for a long but now it is a thing of science fact.

Scientists believe they have successfully transplanted the memory of snails into other snails. Afterward, the untrained slugs showed the same defensive reflex.

Glanzman and his colleagues discovered that those receiving RNA from the trained snails exhibited the same reflex actions in response to tail simulation - even though they had not themselves been trained to do so.

RNA stands for ribonucleic acid; it's a large molecule involved in various essential roles within biological organisms - including the assembly of proteins and the way that genes are expressed more generally.

In an experiment to test the idea, Glanzman implanted wires into the tails of California sea hares, or Aplysia californica, and gave them a series of electric shocks. (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).

When the researchers subsequently tapped the snails, they found those that had been given the shocks displayed a defensive contraction lasting about 50 seconds, while those that had not received the shocks contracted for only about one second. Some dishes had RNA from marine snails that had been given electric tail shocks, and some dishes contained RNA from snails that had not been given shocks.

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.

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Typically when we think of memory, the consensus is that memories are encoded in connections between our brain cells, but neurobiologist David Glanzman is of the opinion that RNA actually holds the key.

"If memories were stored at synapses, there is no way our experiment would have worked", said Glanzman, who added that the marine snail is an excellent model for studying the brain and memory. However, they conclude that their findings offer "dramatic support" for the idea that memory does not have to be stored in synapses. Each neuron has several thousand synapses.

Previous studies point out that, after amnesia, long-term memory can be restored by using a priming component.

In the future, Glanzman said, it is possible that RNA can be used to awaken and restore memories that have gone dormant in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

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

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

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