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15 May 2018, 07:41 | Silvia Roy
The California sea hare Aplysia californica. Credit Wikimedia Commons
Experts noted that the experiment is important to science, despite the fact that it was not quite a full transfer of memory.
"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."
"If memories were stored at synapses, there is no way our experiment would have worked".
Prof David Glanzman, one of the authors, from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), said the result was "as though we transferred the memory".
This groundbreaking experiment began with training a group of sea snails belonging to the Aplysia californica species, colloquially known as the California sea hare. But she said she strongly disagreed with Glanzman's notion that synaptic connections do not play a key role in memory storage. These findings don't close the debate about where memories are stored, and they certainly don't mean that we can instantly restore detailed memories in humans. He picked Aplysia because it has been a longtime model organism for memory studies.
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A sea snail has about 20,000 neurons in its central nervous system and a human is thought to have 100 billion, according to the scientists. In the snail's gut, for example, are specific sensory and motor neurons that control the withdrawal of a fleshy, spout-like organ on the snail's back called a siphon and the contraction of a caterpillar-looking gill, which the animal uses to breathe. They held the pose for 40 seconds, as if they remembered how to respond to a stimulus, even though they had never encountered it before. As for the snails, the team trained then beforehand to develop a defensive reaction to this procedure.
This idea is probably going to strike most of my colleagues as extremely improbable.
The RNA in the trained snail was used to create an engram - the elusive substrate of memory - by sensitising them with tail simulation that triggers an involuntary defensive reflex. When tapping the snails, the ones in shock training contracted their bodies for nearly 50 seconds to defend themselves.
DNA methylation appeared to be essential for the transfer of the memory among snails. Then underwent RNA Guinea rabbits with nerve nodes in the body other slugs, which is not affected by the shock.
Once injected into the untrained snails, they too showed a similar defensive response without having ever demonstrated it before.
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However UCLA's work seems to contradict this.
The current favoured theory among neuroscientists, however, is that long-term memories are encoded in synapses - the functional interfaces between neurons through which electrical or chemical signals pass.
He also stressed that the snails did not get hurt. "But if we're right, we're just at the beginning of understanding how memory works".
"This idea is probably going to strike most of my colleagues as extremely improbable", Glanzman says.
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