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"S-Nailed It" -- The Discovery Files

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In a study straight out of science fiction, researchers have discovered that it's possible, by transferring RNA between specimens, to transfer memories from one animal to another -- in this case, snails. The researchers believe that this finding could help develop new treatments to ease the pain of traumatic memories and restore lost ones in people.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Sss-nailed it.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

When it comes to forming memories, a marine snail's brain is a lot like ours. Hmmm, what kind of memories could a snail have?

(Sound effect: Surf, seagulls)
Snail 1: "Hey, remember that road trip across the boardwalk?"
Snail 2 "Yeah, thought I was gonna run out of slime."
Snail 1: "You did seem a little slug-ish"

A snail's memories are a tad simpler than your average human's, but the goings-on in their brain cells seems to be quite similar. UCLA researchers enlisted the help of some marine snails, and were able to essentially transfer a memory from one to another.

A group of snails had very mild electrical stimulations applied to their tails and were taught to lengthen their defensive response from the normal one second to about 50. When RNA from their nervous systems was injected into a second group of snails, it was as if they had received the stimulations too. Their defensive responses jumped from one second to about 40.

The study challenges the long-held belief that memories are stored in synapses -- the junctions between brain cells. The team believes instead that memories may actually be stored in the nucleus of brain cells. The work could lead to new treatments for Alzheimer's restoring memories or lessening the trauma of painful memories for those with PTSD.

And that's huge. All gathered from the itty-bitty brain of a snail.
Snail 1: "Hey, I'm slimin' here."

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at nsf.gov or on our podcast.

 
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