Scientists have carried out a transplant of memory between the living beings

The California sea hare Aplysia californica. Credit Wikimedia Commons

Scientists believe they have successfully transplanted the memory of snails into other snails.

The findings of the study could affect our understanding of memory.

It was "as though we had transferred the memory", study co-author and UCLA professor David Glanzman said, the BBC reported. The group's examination is distributed May 14 in eNeuro, the online diary of the Society for Neuroscience. So, in a third test, he and his team removed sensory neurons from nonshocked snails, cultured the cells in a dish, and then exposed the cells to RNA from shocked snails. The shocks enhance the snail's defensive withdrawal reflex, a response it displays for protection from potential harm. Sticking electrodes in the snail's tail and shocking it makes this defensive response last longer, tens of seconds, and sometimes up to nearly a minute. Those that had not been given the shocks contracted for only about one second. Animals have developed a protective reflex, expressed in the contraction of the muscles during 50 seconds in subsequent contacts with the electrodes. (For a control, the team also took RNA from non-shocked snails and injected into naive snails.) When tapped on the siphon 24 hours later, snails that got RNA from shocked snails withdrew their siphon and gill for significantly longer (almost 40 seconds) than did snails that got RNA from non-shocked animals (less than 10 seconds).

To create a memory that they could transfer the team started by applying mild electric shocks to the tail of the snail.

"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."

The scientists also injected RNA from one group of untrained snails into another to make sure it wasn't just the injection process that caused the snails to change their behaviour.

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When a marine snail is given electric tail shocks, its sensory neurons become more excitable. Adding RNA from a marine snail that was not given the tail shocks did not produce this increased excitability in sensory neurons. Another camp believed memories were stored in the nuclei of neurons.

"In the event that recollections were put away at neural connections, it is extremely unlikely our examination would have worked", said Glanzman, who included that the marine snail is a magnificent model for concentrate the cerebrum and memory.

Scientists know more about the cell biology of this simple form of learning in this animal than any other form of learning in any other organism, Glanzman said.

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

Glanzman predicts that in the future we could use our knowledge of RNA to actually awaken and restore memories that have been lost in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. He and his colleagues published research in the journal eLife in 2014 indicating that lost memories can be restored.

But there are many different types of RNA, and Glanzman's team plans to do more research to figure out determine which types most directly impact memory.

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