UCLA biologists report they have transferred a memory from one marine snail to another, creating an artificial memory, by injecting RNA from one to another.
However, speaking with The Guardian, Tomás Ryan, a studier of memory at Trinity College Dublin, is not exactly convinced that Glanzman and his team have demonstrated an ability to transfer what we consider a personal memory. But this new study lends credence to the hypothesis that memory is also partly stored in physical traces called engrams. As a result, researchers used RNA, which is part of the epigenetic modification and part of the process of forming long-term memory.
First, they had to train sea snails. So, in a third test, he and his team removed sensory neurons from nonshocked snails, cultured the cells in a dish, and then exposed the cells to RNA from shocked snails. The snails received five tail shocks, one every 20 minutes, and then five more 24 hours later.
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. 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.
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What happened next was awesome.
The life scientists extracted RNA from the nervous systems of marine snails that received the tail shocks the day after the second series of shocks, and also from marine snails that did not receive any shocks.
"What we are talking about are very specific kinds of memories, not the sort that says what happened to me on my fifth birthday, or who is the president of the United States", said Glanzman, whose study appears in the journal eNeuro.
"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. The UCLA team applied mild electric shocks to the creatures' tails in order to provoke a defense mechanism - a withdrawal reflex in which the snails contracted to protect themselves from harm. Afterward, the untrained slugs showed the same defensive reflex. In the 1940s, Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb proposed memories are made in the connections between neurons, called synapses, and stored as those connections grow stronger and more abundant. Instead, Glanzman believes they may be storied in the nuclei of neurons, a theory that needs more study to be definitively shown. Kaang notes there are "many critical questions that need to be addressed to further validate the author's argument", such as what kinds of noncoding RNAs are specifically involved, how are the RNAs transferred among neurons, and how much do RNAs at the synapse play a role? Seralynne Vann from Cardiff University in the United Kingdom made an interesting point about the chances of applying a similar technique in the study of human memory. Biologists believe that the researchers might have transferred only response and not memory.