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Scientists Identify Genes Activated During Learning And Memory 56

Posted by samzenpus
from the programmed-to-learn dept.
Researchers have theorized that certain genes must be activated to alter neuron activity inside the brain for learning and memory to take place. Finding and cataloging all the genes involved in learning is a formidable job. Scientists have now developed a computational approach to provide a rapid way to identify the likely members of this sought-after set of genes.
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Scientists Identify Genes Activated During Learning And Memory

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  • Well.... (Score:5, Funny)

    by kitsunewarlock (971818) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @02:20AM (#18794211) Journal
    I for one am not surprised one bit it took them this many years considering the percentage of the human population who would be able to activate these genes regularly enough for them to be noticeable.
    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by nihaopaul (782885)
      i wish i had mod points to mod the parent up, but sadly enough those who take offense after understanding what you meant will now mod me down
  • Recursion (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    This just in... genes used for human memory are used to discover themselves.
  • Title is misleading (Score:5, Informative)

    by HateBreeder (656491) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @02:23AM (#18794235)
    They didn't identify the genes... they developed a method that might help in identifying these genes.
    • This is nothig new (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 19, 2007 @02:56AM (#18794435)
      Not to rain on anyone's parade here but this is pretty routine stuff. Basically, transcription factors bind to a gene's promoter region (the 'control' points) and control the production of protein from the gene. If you know that a certain transcription factor is involved in regulating some process (like learning) and you know some genes that the transcription factor regulates, you can look for sequence similarities (similar characters) in the promoter regions of those genes and then look for similar sequence in other genes to find other genes that the transcription factor _might_ control. Simplest algorithms that do this just use regular expressions while more sophisticated ones use a probabilistic model. But the results from these algorithms are not perfect (or close) because transcription factors really bind to specific 3D shapes and sequences of genetic characters are just a simple proxy for the real 3D shape (which we can't easily calculate and which depend on many other factors).

      Anyway, according to the article, the work was done by an undergraduate student and it probably was good research but nothing news worthy. These kinds of press releases don't really do anyone (not the author, the scientific community nor the reader) any justice.
  • by cp.tar (871488) <cp.tar.bz2@gmail.com> on Thursday April 19, 2007 @02:25AM (#18794253) Journal

    ... but I do hope no-one's looking forward to some sort of treatment which would drastically improve our memory, except maybe as a way to diminish symptoms of Alzheimer's or similar diseases.

    Much as I've always wanted a btter memory, studies conducted on the few people with truly eidetic memory showed that while they indeed had nearly perfect recollection, they also lacked the ability to discriminate between important and unimportant, though I still have my doubts as to what is the cause of which.

    • by rde (17364) * on Thursday April 19, 2007 @03:03AM (#18794479)
      studies conducted on the few people with truly eidetic memory showed that while they indeed had nearly perfect recollection, they also lacked the ability to discriminate between important and unimportant

      Irrespective of which causes which, it's unlikely that we're going to get an all-or-nothing scenario; it should be possible to improve memory and/or learning without going the whole hog. And TBH, I think the effect on Alzheimer's is likely to be limited; while IANAN, I imagine that it's not defective memory-activating genes that cause it as much as it is plaques 'n' stuff in the brain.
      Besides, have you looked at the internet lately? It seems that it's not eidetic memory that causes one to lose one's ability to distinguish between the important and the irrelevent; it's a modem.
      • by cp.tar (871488)

        it should be possible to improve memory and/or learning without going the whole hog.

        Actually, I really think we needn't resort to biology, neurology and biochemistry to do that. Schools, for one, could teach many more things, both facts and skills, if certain things were re-organized. With teachers throughout the world being as poorly appreciated as they are, that is just not going to happen, though.

        Our capacity to learn and to memorize is near-infinite; it's not the capacity that's the problem, but the w

    • by kevinadi (191992) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @03:19AM (#18794571)
      I wouldn't consider the lack of ability to have photographic memory is necessarily bad though. I have a really bad memory, forget people's names within 5 minutes of meeting them, can't seem to remember street names and address, etc.

      This results in me getting really bad grades in memory-minded Asian school, since we're practically must memorize every single little thing in exams. However, this lack of ability also allows me to be very selective on what to memorize (e.g. I discovered rather quickly what is important and what is not) and allows me to develop other skills to compensate since I can't remember shit.

      I have to say that my lack of strong memory actually helped me a lot in later life. I learned at an early age, much unlike my peers, that if I understand something I don't need to memorize it. When everyone in my class tried very hard to memorize an A4 paper full of formulas, I can get away with memorizing three of them (in parts no less; I have problem memorizing a full formula so I have to separate them into logical parts) and derive the rest during exam. Now as far as I know I'm the only person in my high school class doing a PhD in Engineering. And I still can't remember shit.

      Now what was that article about again?
      • by cp.tar (871488)

        Thank you for illustrating my point so clearly.

        Croatian schools are also pretty memory-centered, which is quite a nuisance to most students, who attempt to memorize things without understanding them.
        If you ask me, it just sucks to be them.

        I too meet the same people three times before I learn their names, can't remember a date to save my life and would probably leave my head on a bus were it not attached to my neck, yet I have twice in a row come first in the entrance exam to my university, which consists

        • by kevinadi (191992)

          I have twice in a row come first in the entrance exam to my university

          What? Did you forget that you were accepted the first time around? :)
          • by cp.tar (871488)

            Heh, almost...

            I wanted to study one other thing along with my first choice, actually.

      • by rpbird (304450)
        Reminds me of an incident in trig class way back when. The instructor caught me trying to memorize all the different trig formulas. "Why are you doing that?" he said, and then proceeded to teach me how to derive all of them from the three basic formulas. A good memory is often overvalued.
        • I wish someone would have caught me doing that too, 'cause I tried to memorize it all, didn't succeed, and fell into apathy. Now, years later, I surely could do with some math skills here at the university, but I can't even friggin' figure out where to start... I wonder if there are any math books that focus on the essentials, i.e. how it all hangs together, not just spewin' forth formula after formula. I'm sure a bright enough individual could see it all by him/herself, I'm just not too certain that I'm on
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I do hope no-one's looking forward to some sort of treatment which would drastically improve our memory

      Hell yeah, thinking of the vast amount of money I've spent on alcohol trying to forget, that would be a kick in the face for sure.
  • It's not a big surprise that genes fire during the learning process. There's gotta be something happening chemically, otherwise none of the drugs that actually help would. Do they actually know which genes do what, as far as the learning is concerned? Or is this just a 'hey, let's formally announce this so it looks like we're making progress' type of thing?
  • What if.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @02:39AM (#18794333) Journal
    If they monitor their own genes on the computer, will they learn which genes activate? And thus by learning activate them...
  • by Jbcarpen (883850) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @02:40AM (#18794341)
    This may yet still be years off, but this sort of thing could lead to the development of drugs that enhance the ability to learn in a temporary fashion. That is, you are able to remember everything you read in the few hours the drug is in effect, but once the drug wears off you keep the memories of what you learned while on it without having a permanent eidetic memory (believe me, that could drive you insane.)
    • "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of giants"

      Will we be seeing even greater things if everyone in this world one day could get hold of a recipe to boost their memory? Boosting memory is not equal to intelligence but at least a large number of people could connect the patterns and do some great stuff.

      I can't wait for the day our descendents create a big new world parallel to Earth and make it a sanctuary , even withstanding Black Hole rampage.
    • Well, seriously now, just the thought of any kind of brain-enhancing medicine makes me worry. How long until some dumbass parents stuff their kids full of such medicine, in the name of giving them a future?

      I know my parents, for all the other good and (plenty of) bad things they did, pretty much buried me alive in extra homework. I'm not even sure it was as much for a future as such, as because in the circle of mom's and dad's equally nerdy friends they could brag about my achievements. I even pretty much e
    • by cp.tar (871488)

      Memory is a complex mechanism, both in the storage and in the retrieval part.

      I somehow doubt that such drugs would be of any good use; even if you were able to memorize things while under the influence, your brain would still have to sort it all out and you'd still have trouble recalling everything - at least while not under the influence.

      Really, I do loathe the mere idea of chemically achieving something that could be done much better by simple practice.

      We needn't be super-human; if most people were hum

    • It could lead to the development of drugs that reduce the ability to learn temporarily. Make it airborne, put it in a spray bottle - MIB, anyone?
    • this sort of thing could lead to the development of drugs that enhance the ability to learn in a temporary fashion. That is, you are able to remember everything you read in the few hours the drug is in effect, but once the drug wears off you keep the memories of what you learned while on it without having a permanent eidetic memory

      And so would probably be made illegal in education like steroids are in sports.

      "Where's my revision timetable, Lister? It's Saturday night. No one works Saturday night. You don

  • Okay, I read TFA and I'm a bit curious how this works, having no idea how neuroscience lab work is conducted. They say that they use a computer to test how the factors, CREB and ZIF something react with specific genes. How is this done?
    • by asobala (563713)
      They say that they use a computer to test how the factors, CREB and ZIF something react with specific genes. How is this done?

      Genes are activated when a protein binds to the DNA sequence normally found upstream of a gene. Each protein binds to a specific DNA sequence (although there are often acceptable variations within the sequence). So if a protein binds to CATTACG, then you can find which genes may be activated by this protein by scanning for genes that have the signature CATTACG upstream of them.

      This

  • Mixed feelings (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Stripsurge (162174) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @02:52AM (#18794417) Homepage
    On the one hand pinpointing all the genes involved in memory will undoubtedly help towards finding cures for the myriad of memory related disorders. Hooray!

    On the other hand I can't help but feel like unlocking the secrets of the mind will inevitably lead to the obsolescence of the everyday human. Granted, we're still a long way off from creating super smart people with the flick of a switch but one day it will happen. We've already seen the creation of super strong rats and the like (too lazy to find links). The brain is quite complex however and chances are some mad scientists somewhere are bound to created a more than a few scrambled melons before striking success.

    With each new discovery of the human genome we inch closer to fully understanding it. Once we have a complete grasp there are bound to be those who wish to further the species with "unnatural means". I would argue that we would only be speeding what would otherwise take thousands of years to take place (although there are certainly no guarantees we'll ever get much smarter as a whole). If survival of the fittest is the name of the game, and why would we not want further generations to be the best they can be? I suppose that can be answered by any number of sci-fi flicks, but Hollywood seems to paint a grim picture of genetically modified people as if they automatically become evil, or at least have the chance of snapping and turning evil at any moment. I see no reason we can't eventually re-create the likes of a Da Vinci. The only problem is that this type of work doesn't benefit an individual because he would be contributing to his own demise, the end of "natural" humans. If something that at least somewhat looks/acts/feels like a human makes it off this planet and onto other worlds I'd be happy knowing we lived on in at least some form.

    • On the other hand I can't help but feel like unlocking the secrets of the mind will inevitably lead to the obsolescence of the everyday human

      This research is nowhere near even coming close to that level. However, I do have one thing to say about your lament. I damn well hope so! Have you seen what a good job the everyday human is doing at running this planet? If anything is due for an upgrade, it's the everyday human.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by symes (835608)
      Thoughtful post...

      I see no reason we can't eventually re-create the likes of a Da Vinci.

      I would disagree with this point, however. I think we do recreate Da Vinci's every day of every year. But most of these guys don't look right, don't get the right opportunities, are born to parents who don't give a stuff, are born into poverty, etc., etc..

      But what if you could, hypothetically, re-create Da Vinci? He might mature, apply his enormous intellect to his creation, realise that the optimum characteristics required to survive our murky world are stupidity and aggressio

      • Re:Mixed feelings (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Aladrin (926209) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @07:40AM (#18795755)
        The process also totally ignores environmental factors and random chance.

        I'm not arguing that Da Vinci wasn't brilliant. But in today's society, would he even be noticed? We have more geniuses than ever, and as such, they are less noteworthy than ever. In Da Vinci's time, it was dangerous and difficult to be a genius. Being different was a lot harder back then, and if you should come up with an idea that was against the local religion, you would probably die. Now if you go against the grain, you merely get screamed at, screamed with, and get a lot of publicity. Not necessarily in that order.
    • by ari wins (1016630)
      Rest assured, economics and ego will always find a way to keep a financial/mental "lower class" around. Those with a choice like to have the broken and downtrodden near at hand, else there would be no one to look down on and use as examples to your children. A fact I count on for my existence to have any merit. I mean, if I can't be that guy in the ratty clothes that you use to scare your children into becoming something more, what do I have left?
  • Misleading (Score:3, Informative)

    by mapkinase (958129) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @07:35AM (#18795739) Homepage Journal
    This is not experimental article. [biomedcentral.com]. This is 100% computational study. And again (I said it elsewhere several times already): it would be nice if submitters will make a little bit of extra effort and give a link to the original peer-revied publication.

    Worth publishing in a scientific journal? May be. Worth the front page of /.? No.
  • That's just sick and ... what? Oh. Oh! "Learning". Sorry. I read it "Leering".

  • by mattr (78516)
    Sounds quite neat, I'd go into this field maybe if I was starting over again.. or maybe not. Unfortunately it also makes a number of horror and terror plots spring to mind including enough for a bookshelf of novels and finally a reason why people shouldn't bring viral vector laden liquid onto planes (besides their own blood). WMD just got a lot cheaper..
  • I was under the impression that most people had great memories, just lousy retreival systems. We remember the dramatic things and the important things in part becasue those things are linked to something else - like other important facts or strong emotions.

    While this research is fantastic and will surely result in breakthoughs to help people who cannot store information, I'm pretty sure it won't help me remember my father-in-law's birthday.
  • So they've come up with a theory to test the proposal that would give a clue as to what....umm, what were talking about again?
  • by tgibbs (83782) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @10:42AM (#18797911)
    Carnegie Mellon's media people seem to have done a very good job of publicizing some fairly routine work. Database searches to identify targets of transcription factors are fairly routine. The authors may have an improved approach, but the paper contains no experimental validation. And while there is plenty of evidence implicating these transcription factors in learning and memory, it does not necessarily follow that every gene regulated by these factors is involved in learning and memory. There are other transcription factors, both positive and negative, and transcription factors can interact in complex combinatorial ways.
  • Original Carnegie Mellon press release: http://www.cmu.edu/news/archive/2007/April/april17 _genes.shtml [cmu.edu]
    The actual journal article: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2202/8/20 [biomedcentral.com]

    This is not simply a proposal, though you have to go to the actual journal article to determine that. The press release is so hyped up though that it's hard to see that basically all they're doing is applying two well-known bioinformatics techniques to the problem of finding previously unknown/unstudied genes related to learning an

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