‘Two people swapping memories with each other,’ seems like a work of fiction, which is both exciting and terrifying. This is fiction no more, as neuroscientists were able to transfer memories between one sea slug to another.
A successful memory transplant was conducted by a team in which RNA, a form of genetic information, was transferred from one sea slug to another.
The sea slugs were trained to develop a defensive reaction against a mild electric shock, these shocks were given repeatedly for two days.
Then the extracted RNA was taken out from the sea slugs who were given electric shocks and transplanted to the ones who were never given a single electric shock in their entire lives – the ones that were never given a shock reacted the same way as the donors of RNA to the electric shock.
However, the sea slugs who were not given the transplant did not show the same defensive reaction to the electric shock.
The results concluded that memories can be physically extracted from one animal and transferred to another by injections; this rectifies the claims from 60s’ experiments which gave predictions about the possibility of ‘memory pills’ or ‘jabs’ in the future.
These kind of studies come with a lot of questions about ethics and morality but the authors of these findings from the UCLA said this treatment could help prevent the unwanted traumatic memories.
The study, led by professor David Glanzman at UCLA, says its results offer ‘dramatic support’ of the theory about storing memory in a RNA, which could be used in cloning or transplantation of our genetic code.
It states: ‘Our results suggest that RNA could eventually be used to modify, either enhance or depress, memories.’
This idea was popularized in 60s by a scientist named James McConnell, who was able to train flatworms to scrunch up to flashes of lights by giving them the similar electric shocks.
He was nicknamed ‘McCannibal’ and rightly so, he cut open these flatworms and fed them to other worms – as a result of which the worms showed same defensive fear to the light.
This study broke down the traditional view that the memory is stored between the brain cells – this study went out of fashion for several decades and has only recently popped back into researchers’ interest.
Professor George Kemenes stated: ‘Memory transfer research has been controversial in the past because some of the results seen in animals could not be replicated.’
‘But this robust study, done by experts with extensive knowledge of the brains and nervous systems of sea slugs, is extremely convincing in determining that memories are mediated by RNA.’
‘It might give rise to novel types of treatment to eliminate memories related to post-traumatic stress syndrome in people or to alleviate memory loss caused by dementia, but that could be a long time away.’
This study was published in the eNeuro journal.