Published: Tue, May 15, 2018
Medical | By Marta Holmes

Scientists say they have transferred memories between sea slugs, via injection

Scientists say they have transferred memories between sea slugs, via injection

A group of scientist from the University of California (UCLA) have successfully transplanted memories from one snail to another. When tapping the snails, the ones in shock training contracted their bodies for nearly 50 seconds to defend themselves.

And it's possible that the RNA is transferring some other process, not necessarily memory.

"These basic science approaches to explore this are very, very useful for identifying some of the foundation building blocks, if you will, of how this might contribute to the more complicated memories that you think of in humans", said Newbern. (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).

This groundbreaking experiment began with training a group of sea snails belonging to the Aplysia californica species, colloquially known as the California sea hare.

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When asked if this process would be conducive to the transplant of memories laid down through life experiences, Prof Glanzman was uncertain, but he expressed optimism that the greater understanding of memory storage would lead to a greater opportunity to explore different aspects of memory.

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

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.

To create a memory that they could transfer the team started by applying mild electric shocks to the tail of the snail. Sticking electrodes in the snail's tail and shocking it makes this defensive response last longer, tens of seconds, and sometimes up to nearly a minute. "So these snails are alarmed and release ink, but they aren't physically damaged by the shocks", he said. Like all mollusks, these snails have groups of neurons called ganglia, rather than brains. When Glanzman and his colleagues blocked DNA methylation in snails getting RNA from shocked ones, the injected snails withdrew their siphons for only a few seconds when tapped on the siphon. 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.

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

Scientists have found that for the production of reflex answer sensory neurons, which are excitable in the presence of certain RNA.

The trained RNA also increased the excitability of cultured sensory neurons, obtained from untrained animals, which control this reflex all of which raises the possibility that RNA could be used to modify memory in other organisms, including us. The memory is not stored in the RNA itself, he speculates-instead, noncoding RNA produces epigenetic changes in the nucleus of neurons, thereby storing the memory.

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