Science may never know what wistful memories play on the mind of the California sea hare, a 30cm-long hermaphrodite marine slug, as it munches on algae in the shallow tide pools of the Pacific coast.
A team of biologists successfully made their way in transplanting the memories in a snail by transferring a genetic information form known as RNA from one snail to the other. After around 24 hours the snails had developed an instinctual reaction to recoil when being tapped on the tail.
Intriguingly, the scientists found that the seven snails that received the RNA from the sensitized group began to behave as if they had been shocked. The research could offer new clues regarding the physical basis of memory.
That is, until researchers injected ribonucleic acid (RNA) from the trained snails into the second group. When tapping the snails, the ones in shock training contracted their bodies for nearly 50 seconds to defend themselves.
This amplification was demonstrated by the fact that after the shocks were administered, the snails' defensive contractions lasted around 50 seconds on average when the scientists tapped their shells.
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The shocked snails had been "sensitised" to the stimulus.
The next step was to extract RNA from the snails' nervous systems, but only from those that had received the shocks.
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.
They saw a similar effect when they did the same thing to sensory nerve cells being studied in petri dishes.
Professor David Glanzman, renowned author from the University of California, Los Angeles says that the result was as though they had transferred the memory itself from one snail to the other.
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"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.
"If memories were stored at synapses, there is no way our experiment would have worked", he said. Each neuron has several thousand synapses. "It's interesting, but I don't think they've transferred a memory", he said.
The traditional view among neuroscientists is that memories are stored in our brain's synapses-the junctions between neurons, or nerve cells.
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.
The type of RNA relevant to these findings is believed to regulate a variety functions in the cell involved with the development and disease.
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"We must be very careful in drawing comparisons to human memory processes, which are much more complex", professor of memory at Cardiff University Prof Seralynne Vann said, The Guardian reported.