Scientists successfully transfer long-term memory between snails by injecting strings of RNA into a group of mollusks. RNA, a chain of nucleic acids that carries information cells need to create proteins, was the subject of a study conducted by scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles. The team set out to discover whether RNA can transfer memories from one individual to another, reports Sarah Sloat for Inverse.
In the new study, the authors assert their experiment proves that memories are stored in the nuclei of neurons instead of the synapses between brain cells. They argue that changes in gene expression in non-coding RNAs underlies the memory storage process, explains Sloat. The team, led by UCLA biologist David Glanzman, Ph.D., took California sea hares (snails of the Aplysia genus) with wires implanted into their tails, and administered a series of electric shocks. The snails learned to be wary of the wires, contracting their gills defensively for about 50 seconds when the scientists brought the wires out.
From this experimental group, the team extracted RNA and inserted it into a new group of snails that hadn’t been exposed to the shocks, Sloat writes. When the team exposed the new group to the wires, they exhibited the same fear and defense mechanism, contracting their gills for 40 seconds. Despite the preliminary nature of these results, Glanzman argues that his team’s findings raise the possibility that RNA could be used to modify memory. In their paper, the team concludes that the results “indicate that RNA is sufficient to generate an engram for long-term sensitization in Aplysia and are consistent with the hypothesis that RNA-induced epigenetic changes underlie memory storage in Aplysia.”