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Biotech Science

Scientists Build a Smarter Rat 302

destinyland writes "Scientists have engineered a more intelligent rat, with three times the memory length of today's smartest rats. Reseachers bred transgenic over-expression of the NR2B gene, which increased communication between the rat's memory synapses. Activating a crucial brain receptor for just a fraction of a second longer produces a dramatic effect on memory, as proven by the rat's longer memories of the path through a maze."
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Scientists Build a Smarter Rat

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  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @11:31AM (#29963840)

    Even the most forgetful person can be reminded of an event and recall it with vivid clarity. Alzheimer's sufferers can overcome some of the difficulties of the disease with a device like the Life Recorder [techcrunch.com].

    So when we say that someone's (or some rat's) memory is improved, what exactly is improved? Is it the recall ability? If so, does that mean that the rat is somehow able to logically filter out unnecessary information to reach the important memory? Or does it mean that the rat's memory has been structured in a better way? Is it only a spatial thing, or can it work for any type of information?

    As someone with a bad memory, I would be very interested in understanding how this actually works within the rat's brain.

  • by Garrett Fox ( 970174 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @11:57AM (#29964232) Homepage
    About eight years ago I read about a line of experiments that measurably increased rodents' performance in a set of memory and learning tasks. I believe the genetic change involved the NMDA receptor, but a quick search doesn't turn up an obvious link to that.

    There was a report this September [scienceblogs.com] that gene therapy had been used to grant "full" color vision to colorblind monkeys, following on an earlier experiment that did the same thing to rodents. That is, the rodents were given three-color vision where they normally have two color receptor types. (Would that make them transrodents?) Apparently, the brain automatically adapts to having a new receptor type installed in the retina! And the same technique could be used on humans to grant us a fourth receptor type, maybe a UV receptor gotten from parrots or something. I'd volunteer to have this done to one eye. (The first comment on this article [blogspot.com] presents a dissenting view that just because the monkeys were able to distinguish colors in greater detail than before, that shouldn't be taken as proof that they "have full color vision". All the more reason to try it in a human!)

    The rodents could be in combination with cyborg cats though, as seen in this 1995 report [futurefeeder.com] of recognizable images read directly from a cat's visual cortex.
  • by ktappe ( 747125 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @11:58AM (#29964246)

    I wish there was a "-1, pathetically paranoid party pooper" mod..

    I'm glad there's not, because this really is a dangerous thing. If one of these rats escapes we will be in for some hurting. Rats are already rather smart--they know what traps are and how to avoid them, for example. Go live in a rat-infested portion of a city and then tell us again anyone objecting to this experiment is "paranoid".

  • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @12:37PM (#29964806) Journal

    We've dealt with rat problems before. and we can do it again if necessary

    You mean, we're constantly fighting a war against rats in urban and rural areas. The suburbs tend not to have rat problems (you get skunks, opossums, and raccoons, though).

    Do you know how much we spend in the US on rat remediation? And how much damage is caused by rats? Total economic cost of alien-species rats in the US is (a href="http://people.hws.edu/bshelley/Teaching/PimentelEtal00CostExotics.pdf">estimated to be $19 Billion.

    Just saying... just because we CAN do it, doesn't mean it's not expensive and wasteful to actually do it, when the need for expensive action can be averted.

    To me, it's very simple. When the experiment is over, slaughter the rats. Conduct the experiments in a secure enough facility that the rats can;t escape from it.

  • Re:Spooky (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rastilin ( 752802 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @12:59PM (#29965104)

    It's not banned in the USA. Where are you?

    The obvious answer would be, not in the USA. But seriously, there are plenty of countries that try to "protect" it's citizens by legislating away any chemical that looks like it might potentially be dangerous. I simply live in one of those countries. For that matter, I have to get Aspirin over the counter.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @01:15PM (#29965330)

    I've noticed that I have a very good semantic memory (memory of concepts), but a comparatively poor episodic memory (memory of events). I tend to remember patterns but not specific examples of those patterns.

    I've wondered if there's some sort of trade off between the two. Instead of memory performance and other aspects of intelligence being a matter of capacity (where more is strictly better), it could be more of a matter of allocation of capacity (where there may be trade offs).

The human mind ordinarily operates at only ten percent of its capacity -- the rest is overhead for the operating system.