Biologists in the US managed to carry a certain nasty memory from one sea snail to another, thus creating an artificial memory in the second. The memory jump was done by transferring the RNA molecule from one test animal to the other, although the exact biological mechanism that allowed the “transplantation” of memory is not yet understood by scientists.
Researchers led by Professor of Biology, David Gladman, of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), who published the publication in the eNeuro scientific paper, said research of this kind could open new paths for the treatment of painful memories in humans due to mental trauma, and vice versa for the recovery of lost memories.
“I think that in the not so distant future we can use RNA to mitigate the effects of Alzheimer’s disease or post-traumatic stress,” Gladman said.
RNA is primarily known as the chemical messenger that generates proteins and carries DNA commands to other parts of the cell. But it also has other important functions, as the new study shows. Researchers have put snails (Aplysia) in a series of mild electric shocks so that the animals make an unpleasant memory, so their tail is reflexively contracted every time they feel a touch, even when it is no longer a shock.
Scientists then transferred RNA from these snails to others that had not suffered any electric shock. Then they started to behave as if they had gone through the same ugly experience in the past. When someone touched their tail, she was jerking back from fear, as if trying to avoid something unpleasant. This “reflex” was not instantaneous, but it lasted up to 40 seconds.
“It’s like we carried the memory,” said Gladman and argued that memories are not stored in synapses of neurons (each neuron has several thousand synapses), as is widely believed, but in the nucleus of neurons. “If memories were stored in synapses, there would be no way our experiment would succeed,” he said.
Although the snail has only 20,000 neurons in its central nervous system, while the man around 100 billion, the cellular and molecular mechanisms appear to be very similar in snails and humans. This makes optimists scientists that their research will be possible to “translate” people into the future.