January 20, 2019

Snail Memory Transplant Performed Using RNA, Scientists Say

15 May 2018, 05:29 | Randall Craig

UCLA Scientists Transfer Memories Between Sea Slugs

RNA Moves a Memory From One Snail to Another

The UCLA team suggests their research might one day allow us to, as the study states, "modify, enhance, or depress memories".

"It's as though we transferred the memory", said the study's senior author, David Glanzman, from the University of California, Los Angeles.

The research, published in the journal eNeuro, could provide new clues in the search for the physical basis of memory.

RNA, or ribonucleic acid, has been widely known as a cellular messenger that makes proteins and carries out DNA's instructions to other parts of the cell.

The type of RNA relevant to these findings is believed to regulate a variety functions in the cell involved with the development and disease.

In an experiment to test the idea, Glanzman implanted wires into the tails of California sea hares, or Aplysia californica, and gave them a series of electric shocks.

A second, untrained, group of snails only retreated for 1 second upon receiving a tap. Animals have developed a protective reflex, expressed in the contraction of the muscles during 50 seconds in subsequent contacts with the electrodes.

The researchers then injected the RNA from the group of snails who had been shocked into the group which hadn't.

In the experiment's next step, the researchers gauged the withdrawal reflex by tapping both snails that had been trained, or sensitized, in this way and a control group that didn't receive the shock treatment.

Remarkably, the scientists found that the seven that received the RNA from snails that were given the shocks behaved as if they themselves had received the tail shocks: They displayed a defensive contraction that lasted an average of about 40 seconds.

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. The snails in the control group did not display this behavior, indicating that the injection was responsible. Some dishes had RNA from marine snails that had been given electric tail shocks, and some dishes contained RNA from snails that had not been given shocks. Zapping the culture with a bit of current excited the sensory neurons much more than neurons treated with RNA from nonshocked snails. It has always been thought that memories are stored in the synapses in our brains with each neuron containing several thousand synapses.

"If memories were stored at synapses, there is no way our experiment would have worked", he said.

"These are marine snails and, when they are alarmed, they release a attractive purple ink to hide themselves from predators", Glanzman said in a statement. This simple form of learning is known as "sensitization".

Yes, sea snails may have 20,000 neurons - a paltry sum compared to humans' 100 billion.

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