You might not carry your home on your back or release sulphuric acid. However, you have got a lot more in common with a sea snail than you might think. Particularly where your grey matter is concerned.
Yes, sea snails may have about 20,000 neurons — a paltry amount compared with human beings’ 100 billion plus. However researchers have been studying sea snails for a very long time, and they know a lot about how the organisms learn. Numerous marine organisms function the same way many mammals do, other than the processes that keep them alive are just way less complex. And sea snails are no exception — their nerves send impulses much the same way ours do.
So, it’s remarkable that scientists from UCLA were able to transfer memories of being shocked in between marine snails. Even more remarkable? That early research might someday lead the way for comparable procedures in human beings.
In the research study, published on the 14th of May in the journal eNeuro, snails in one group were trained to react to a stimulus — in this case, a shock to the tail. Initially, the snails would just curl for a couple of seconds. However, through repeated shocks, the scientists trained them to curl for longer, as much as about 50 seconds.
Next, the researchers took some ribonucleic acid (RNA), which forms proteins based upon cells’ DNA, from nerve tissue in the upper abdominal area of trained snails and injected it into the inexperienced snails’ necks to get to their circulatory system. When they were shocked, the snails that were not injected with RNA curled for just a couple of seconds, the way all snails do when they have not been trained. However, the ones injected with RNA from the trained snails? They held the posture for 40 seconds, as if they kept in mind how to react to a stimulus, although they had actually never ever experienced it in the past. The scientists also checked a few of the same techniques on snail neurons in a petri dish.
This is a huge deal due to the fact that it helps clear up a longstanding scientific argument. See, some scientists think memories are stored in the synapses (the spaces in between nerve cells). Another camp thought memories were saved in the nuclei of neurons. As research study author David Glanzman told the BBC, “If memories were saved at synapses, there is no chance our experiment would have worked.”
To deal with memory-related diseases in human beings, we’ve first got to comprehend how the brain stores memories in the first place. The UCLA research team thinks their research may one day enable us to, as the study states, “customize, enhance, or depress memories.” That might lead to new methods for individuals with early-stage Alzheimer’s to restore some of what they lost, or unique treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
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Let’s not get carried away, here – these are snails, after all. These findings do not close the dispute about where memories are kept, and they definitely do not imply that we can immediately bring back detailed memories in humans.
However there are various kinds of RNA, and Glanzman’s group plans to do more research to figure out which types most directly effect memory.
So, we’re still a ways off from becoming a kung-fu master just by injecting some RNA into our necks, or downloading some rocket science in Spanish directly to our minds. However, we might be a step closer to it, thanks to the humble, oft-shocked sea snail.