Scientists Made Snails Remember Something of which Never Happened to Them

In experiments on Aplysia californica, a sea snail, untrained snails behaved like trained snails after a transfer of molecules through the brains of the trained snails.CreditScience Stock Photography/Science Source

Transferring memories through one living thing to another sounds like the plot of an episode of “Black Mirror.” although of which may be more realistic than of which sounds — at least for snails.

In a paper published Monday inside journal eNeuro, scientists at the University of California-Los Angeles reported of which when they transferred molecules through the brain cells of trained snails to untrained snails, the animals behaved as if they remembered the trained snails’ experiences.

David Glanzman, a professor of neurobiology at U.C.L.A. who is actually an author of the fresh paper, has been studying Aplysia californica, a sea snail, as well as its ability to make long-term memories for years. The snails, which are about a few inches long, are a useful organism for studying how memories are formed because their neurons are large as well as relatively easy to work with.

In experiments by Dr. Glanzman as well as colleagues, when these snails get a little electric shock, they briefly retract their frilly siphons, which they use for expelling waste. A snail of which has been shocked before, however, retracts its siphon for much longer than a fresh snail recruit.

Recently, the scientists realized of which even when they interfered with their trained snails’ brain cells in a way of which should have removed the memory completely, some vestige remained. They decided to see whether something beyond the brain cells’ connections to each various other — namely, RNA — could be hanging on to the memory.

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You might remember RNA through high school biology: of which is actually best known for ferrying messages between the genome as well as the rest of the cell. although scientists have gradually realized of which there is actually more to RNA than playing messenger.

There are some kinds of RNA of which, instead of carrying messages, help switch genes on as well as off. They have been shown to be involved in long-term memory in snails, mice as well as rats, through their ability to influence chemical tags on DNA. These tags in turn influence whether a gene will be turned on in an organism.

To understand what was happening in their snails, the researchers first extracted all the RNA through the brain cells of trained snails, as well as injected of which into fresh snails. To their surprise, the fresh snails kept their siphons wrapped up much longer after a shock, almost as if they’d been trained.

Next, the researchers took the brain cells of trained snails as well as untrained snails as well as grew them inside lab. They bathed the untrained neurons in RNA through trained cells, then gave them a shock, as well as saw of which they fired inside same way of which trained neurons do. The memory of the trained cells appeared to have been transferred to the untrained ones.

Importantly, when the researchers gave the fresh snails a drug of which keeps chemical tags through being added to DNA, the memory did not transfer. of which is actually in line with various other experiments of which have suggested of which blocking the formation of such tags blocks the formation of long-term memory in snails as well as some rodents, said Dr. Glanzman. of which suggests of which what they are seeing is actually in fact related to memory, as well as not something else to do with the influx of fresh RNA.

Earlier reporting on memory research

The research has echoes of studies through the 1960s involving flatworms. Back then, scientists indulged in a little vicarious cannibalism: They chopped up flatworms trained to respond to light, then fed the remains to various other flatworms, to see whether the dead flatworms’ memories would certainly transfer. Oddly enough, of which looked like they did. although the results were difficult to replicate. The field moved on.

Dr. Glanzman said of which This specific is actually the first study since the flatworm work to propose of which memories can be transferred in such a way. “of which feels like I’m way out on a limb, frankly,” he said.

The team’s findings are a long way still through being applied to people as well as how our memories form. although Dr. Glanzman hopes others will try to replicate the experiments in various other animals, potentially opening the door one day to understanding how RNA as well as genetic tags on DNA could be involved in memory.