Last updated May 17, 2018 at 12:40 pm
Transferring memories from one animal to another? It’s now possible.
Scientists have worked out a way to transfer memories from one animal to another.
Just let that sink in for a minute. Memories can now be added to an animal’s brain, without them ever having had that experience.
Chances are you’re either blown away, or terrified right now.
The study was carried out by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles, using sea snails which had been trained to have a larger than normal involuntary defensive reflex when they were shocked on their tail.
They extracted RNA from these trained animals and injected it into other snails that had been kept separate. After injection with the RNA, this second group of snails showed a very similar response to the original trained animals – suggesting that memory causing the larger reflex had been passed from one animal to the second.
The same RNA also increased the excitability of sensory neurons extracted from untrained animals. These neurons were responsible for the control of this reflex.
But rather than being a moderately creepy thing to do, the research is extremely valuable in the search for new clues to the physical basis of memory.
For nearly 100 years, scientists have searched for the engram, the physical form of memory. For the first time, these scientists may have found a hint of it in these RNA molecules.
Long-term memory is thought to be housed within modified connections between brain cells. Recent evidence, however, suggested an alternative explanation: memory storage may involve changes in gene expression induced by non-coding RNAs.
The researchers in the current study suggest that these non-coding RNAs make epigenetic changes to the DNA of the neurons. These changes lead to changed gene expression, and the memorised response.
It’s unlikely that this will open the floodgates for memory-altering in humans, however.
Sea snails, especially the Aplysia used in the study, have basic brains made up of only 20,000 neurons, which makes them very useful for neurophysiology studies.
Finding a similar RNA messenger in humans, with far more complex brains, could be a whole different ballgame. So we’re unlikely to see human memory hacking anytime soon.
The research was published in eNeuro