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Data Storage Science

Scientists Transfer Memory Between Snails (scientificamerican.com) 92

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Scientific American: UCLA neuroscientists reported Monday that they have transferred a memory from one animal to another via injections of RNA, a startling result that challenges the widely held view of where and how memories are stored in the brain. The finding from the lab of David Glanzman hints at the potential for new RNA-based treatments to one day restore lost memories and, if correct, could shake up the field of memory and learning. The researchers extracted RNA from the nervous systems of snails that had been shocked and injected the material into unshocked snails. RNA's primary role is to serve as a messenger inside cells, carrying protein-making instructions from its cousin DNA. But when this RNA was injected, these naive snails withdrew their siphons for extended periods of time after a soft touch. Control snails that received injections of RNA from snails that had not received shocks did not withdraw their siphons for as long.

Glanzman's group went further, showing that Aplysia sensory neurons in Petri dishes were more excitable, as they tend to be after being shocked, if they were exposed to RNA from shocked snails. Exposure to RNA from snails that had never been shocked did not cause the cells to become more excitable. The results, said Glanzman, suggest that memories may be stored within the nucleus of neurons, where RNA is synthesized and can act on DNA to turn genes on and off. He said he thought memory storage involved these epigenetic changes -- changes in the activity of genes and not in the DNA sequences that make up those genes -- that are mediated by RNA. This view challenges the widely held notion that memories are stored by enhancing synaptic connections between neurons. Rather, Glanzman sees synaptic changes that occur during memory formation as flowing from the information that the RNA is carrying.
The study has been published in the journal eNeuro.
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Scientists Transfer Memory Between Snails

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  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @12:33AM (#56645362)

    That sure sounds like a reputable journal worth many tenure points.

    • Re:eNeuro (Score:5, Informative)

      by Barny ( 103770 ) <bakadamage-slashdot@yahoo.com> on Monday May 21, 2018 @02:55AM (#56645634) Journal

      Not the worst of it. Apparently the article linked and Slashdot (who took the time to find the source) both missed out on this being about sea slugs, not snails.

      • Re:eNeuro (Score:4, Funny)

        by burtosis ( 1124179 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @08:17AM (#56646240)
        Wait, you read TFA?!?
      • Not the worst of it. Apparently the article linked and Slashdot (who took the time to find the source) both missed out on this being about sea slugs, not snails.

        How does the precise species of the test subjects affect interpretation of the results?

      • The difference between snails and slugs is morphologic, not taxonomic. Even "sea slug" is not a taxonomic category. They're all gastropod mollusks, with a spectrum of shell sizes.

      • by 6Yankee ( 597075 )

        Ah, so they're experimenting on the homeless? That has to be some kind of ethics violation.

        • Ah, so they're experimenting on the homeless? That has to be some kind of ethics violation.

          Homeless hermaphrodites, the ignominy of it all. Ye could not say it was a perfect boy, Nor perfect wench: it seemed both and none of both to beene.

    • It's also a pretty meh achievement. I've transferred memory between computers multiple times without getting a slashdot writeup about it each time.
      • Did you transfer data or did you transfer memory?

        While not impossible to transfer the active memory from one system to the next, it normally doesn't happen, mostly because one of the key point of have a redundant system is that they don't go down at the same point. If the RAM was in sync. Then chances are they will crash at the same time because the same problems would span both systems.

  • by careysub ( 976506 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @12:38AM (#56645376)

    I believe there is a significant amount of evidence that synaptic connections do store memories. This work shows evidence that RNA can also be involved in storing memories. It is not like it has to be one of the other. We know of a number of memory mechanisms (short term, long term, explicit, implicit, sensory, muscle, procedural, declarative, etc., etc.) it would not be at all surprising for there to be more than one way memory is stored for different purposes.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Actually, I don't think it even shows that RNA stores memories.

      IMO the software analogy is that RNA affects the LD_PRELOAD or /etc/alternatives for snails, so when the snail executes "/usr/snail/omg-XYZ-happened", the programmed response changes from "dont_care()" to "withdraw_siphon()".

    • by AvitarX ( 172628 )

      Based on the summary, it seems like RNA helps build the connections, which I would have assumed from highschool biology.

      Of course I'm reading the summary with only highschool level biology, so I'm dumbing down the dumbed down...

  • I wonder if it was really ONLY RNA being moved between the snails. Perhaps some hormones were inadvertently getting injected as well. Injecting RNA shouldn't have any immediate effect, until and unless it's processed to produce proteins. Alternatively, perhaps some of the epigenetic structures function like prions, and merely by chemically interacting with other RNA, can 'infect' its epigenetic structures.

    • by Mal-2 ( 675116 )

      RNA can be directly functional as an enzyme. That's part of the "RNA World" hypothesis: since RNA can store genetic information (though not as reliably as DNA), and directly codes proteins (which DNA cannot), and also can act chemically (though proteins are generally more efficient), perhaps RNA originally did all three jobs, all the time.

  • Repost
  • Uhhh. No. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nashv ( 1479253 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @01:15AM (#56645468) Homepage

    This is a bit of a fail. It's interesting but its nothing close to memory transfer.

    The shock stress probably caused the expression of a bunch of stress-related RNA, which when injected into other cells caused a similar stress response. This is like taking the blood of someone in a panic and injecting it into yourself. The adrenaline in the blood is probably going to give you a flight or fight response.

    But is hardly a transfer of memory that caused the panic in the first place.

    • I came here to write this (or something along these lines). Cautious behaviour after a traumatic experience exists in very primitive animals, so it would seem plausible off the bat that a (relatively) simple biochemical mechanism would be behind it. According to my reading, the experiment corroborates this hypothesis - nothing more. The suggestion that a memory was transferred (in the conventional sense) does not stand up to Ocam's razor.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I never worked it out... did the snail simply have a dream implanted, or was he actually a freedom-fighting secret-agent on Mars?

  • I believe that something similar was a plot device used by Larry Niven in his short story "Rammer", and the longer novel "World Out Of Time". Amazing how that seems to happen over and over again.

    • by dwywit ( 1109409 )

      Yes, injections of memory RNA from long-dead experts provided instant knowledge, and IIRC some skills that would otherwise have to be learned.

      "Bottled memory" from the diktors, I think. It's a damn fine adventure story with some great sci-fi concepts thrown in.

      Hey, Netflix, how about licencing some Larry Niven material?

  • De ja..... (Score:5, Informative)

    by meglon ( 1001833 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @01:26AM (#56645498)
    We learned about the planaria experiment in HS back in the 70's; this somehow seems all very familiar.
    • Time to bring back the publication:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

      This one kept a log of the results of the planarian worm experiments.

      By the way, a very good read is the book titled "The Golem" by Harry Collins. It describes how murky some of the results of the scientific experiments were, despite the fact that today they are accepted as decisive evidence.

    • Borg Snails

      I was thinking more like Blade Runner (Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?) Replicants,

      In their next article in eNeuro, the authors will propose a snail Voight-Kampff test . . .

  • The data was moving at a snails pace.

  • This Cheapens some of my finest memories.
  • This unfortunately will have all the massive medical benefits only for people as intelligent as snails.

  • by Hallux-F-Sinister ( 5127197 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @06:30AM (#56646012)
    A researcher experimenting with gamma rays and radioactive snail RNA late at night in a lab experiences a horrific accident, combining his DNA with snail RNA. Now, whenever he gets angry or frightened, a startling metamorphosis occurs... and he exhibits supernatural slowness, and the ability to leave a slimy trail everywhere he goes... the story is not nearly as exciting as what happened to Bruce Banner (or David Banner, if you prefer TV)... instead of "Hulking Out," he just gets a job at the DMV, or moonlights at the Post Office, where he can put his amazing new... powers, as it were, to best use. In this new form, he is known only as, "The SNAIL!"

    His Kryptonite is of course, table salt.
  • I for one welcome our new gastropod overlords.

  • I've read about monkeys who have a genetic component providing for fear of snakes, but they never develop the fear unless they learn it from an adult. Monkeys without the genetic component never learned the fear regardless of exposure (Sorry no online citation, I am fairly sure it was in The Tangled Wing by Melvin Konner) This seems like a similar sort of thing, where an external stimulus is simply turning on or reinforcing a built in tendency. Not the same thing as injecting some RNA to introduce a wholly
  • "They're implants. Those aren't your memories, they're somebody else's. They're Tyrell's niece's."
  • I bet the bit rate was REALLY slow.
  • Half of science published today can't be replicated. I suspect this is on the not-repeatable side of that equation.

  • The paper discusses RNA influencing "Epigenetic Engram for Long-Term Sensitization", it isn't like RNA injection is going to give you complex sensory memories.

    You know what else might influence your epigenetic engram for long-term sensitization? Cocaine!

  • . . . we have already witnessed this in the Bush Crime Family, the Trump Crime Family and the Clinton Crime Family.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun