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Biotech Science

Scientists Write Memories Directly Into Fly Brains 137

TheClockworkSoul writes "Researchers at the University of Oxford have devised a way to write memories onto the brains of flies, revealing which brain cells are involved in making bad memories. The researchers said that in flies, just 12 brain cells were responsible for what is known as 'associative learning.' They modified these neurons by adding receptors for ATP, so that the cells activate in the presence of the chemical, but since ATP isn't usually found floating around a fly's brain, the flies generally behave just like any other fly. Most interestingly, however, is that the scientists then injected ATP into the flies' brains, in a form that was locked inside a light-sensitive chemical cage. When they shined a laser on the fly brains, the ATP was released, and the 'associative learning' cells were activated. The laser flash was paired with an odor, effectively giving the fly a memory of a bad experience with the odor that it never actually had, such that it then avoided the odor in later experiments. The researchers describe their findings in the journal Cell."
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Scientists Write Memories Directly Into Fly Brains

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  • by TheClockworkSoul ( 1635769 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @10:20PM (#29775177) Homepage
    Well, just a thought, but wouldn't one such possible control be shining the laser on flies without ATP receptors?
  • by HeLLFiRe1151 ( 743468 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @10:22PM (#29775183)
    I was think perhaps associating the laser with an odor that the fly normally likes would provide a more accurate approach. What do I know though, I'm couldn't even pass for a geek let alone a scientist.
  • Re:Bad odor (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dov_0 ( 1438253 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @10:24PM (#29775187)
    If only they could program them to avoid the smell of BBQ meat...
  • by Tubal-Cain ( 1289912 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @10:33PM (#29775229) Journal
    Are we sure it was a new memory they created? Because we can't just interview the flies about what they were thinking, how do we know the smell conjured up a fake memory rather than, say, just a strong feeling of unease?
  • Re:Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Elokane ( 1558107 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @11:14PM (#29775383)
    The distance from this to what you think about when you say "memory" is as far as your use of "morals" in your argument irrelevant.
  • Re:Why? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 16, 2009 @11:28PM (#29775427)

    Who died and made you the guy (or gal) who decides what is and is not moral for the entire human race?

    Quit bitching about people investigating these things, and instead bitch about the people who use their ideas for evil if and when that happens.

    Nearly everything can be misused by someone, somewhere. If people like you had their way, we'd still be in the dark ages, god forbid anyone learn anything that might one-day come back to bite us.

  • Re:Bad odor (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 16, 2009 @11:34PM (#29775451)

    The scientists later discovered that even fly's without this injected memory avoided the odor. One man was quoted saying "It smelled pretty bad."

    Still later, scientists discovered that flies would avoid odors they associated with having lasers shined through their heads, regardless of cellular modifications.

  • Re:Obligatory (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 16, 2009 @11:49PM (#29775497)

    For some reason what I thought of was "Blade Runner", with the implanting memories.

    Androids may dream of electric sheep, but I don't even want to know what flies dream of.

  • Re:Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MrMista_B ( 891430 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @11:50PM (#29775499)

    Is there anyone in you family that has alzheimers?

    Is there anyone in your family that suffers moderate to severe memory loss as a result of accident, disease, or trauma?

    Does your child have physical and mental problems that impair learning?

    Fuck the flies, and fuck you for suggesting that research like this is 'immoral'. What's immoral is your haughty 'I'm holier than thou' attitude that just because you can't immediately grasp all the implications of an experiment, it shouldn't be done, the benefit be damned.

  • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @11:55PM (#29775517) Journal
    Two basic lines of response:

    A) Sure. Loads of morally correct applications. There are plenty of situations where the mere existence of a given memory is the point of the exercise. Many forms of instruction/training, for instance. If the memory of having read the manual is false; but the contents of the manual you falsely remember having read are true, you win. You'd need the subject's consent; but it isn't at all hard to imagine plenty of situations where people would be delighted to knowingly have various useful memories implanted.

    B)An experimental result like this is quite far from application, well within the realm of basic research into memory functions. Understanding memory function, while it would have both positive and negative potential, is arguably a net positive. Right now, if I want to implant an unpleasant memory, or fuck with your sense of reality, or otherwise do nasty things to you, I don't really need a sophisticated understanding of memory. A water bottle and your T-shirt and no sense of decency will do well enough. If, however, I want to improve education, or understand why certain psychiatric disorders include serious memory problems, or treat brain injuries, or what have you, knowledge of the neurology of memory systems is necessary.

    There could certainly be, at least in principle, scientific/technological developments that are just plain bad news; but I don't think that this is one of them. Virtually all the potential downsides can be achieved(or at least closely approximated) by far lower tech means, while many of the potential upsides are otherwise out of reach.
  • Re:Why? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by timmarhy ( 659436 ) on Friday October 16, 2009 @11:58PM (#29775529)
    " I'm all for scientific investigation,"

    i don't think you managed to fool anyone with that statement.

  • by node 3 ( 115640 ) on Saturday October 17, 2009 @08:50AM (#29776859)

    As you might guess, the article title and summary are incorrect. The scientists *didn't* write a memory into the fly's brain, they exposed it to something to memorize (the smell) and then artificially triggered the store-this-as-bad circuitry. Which is still cool and interesting and all that.

    No, the article and summary are rather correct.

    The fly's actual *experience* is of a smell that they didn't think was all that bad, but later, when they encountered the smell again, they remembered it as being something bad.

    It's like if you ate some normal food, but a mad scientist tricked your brain into adding the "I didn't like this" flag to it while you were eating it. At the time, your emotion was a pleasantly eating some food, but later, when you encounter the food again, you feel repulsed by it, remembering it from before as being notably unpleasant.

This restaurant was advertising breakfast any time. So I ordered french toast in the renaissance. - Steven Wright, comedian