Scientists ‘transplant’ memories into snails

A slide down memory lane: Many scientists are unsure whether this experiment really changes much.

Would you want a memory transplant? This may sound like science fiction, but scientists claim to have carried it out on snails. They hope that their research will benefit humans, too.

What’s happening

Scientists in California claim to have transferred memories from one sea snail to another. In a groundbreaking study, they showed that the snails can behave as though they remember something that never happened to them. They hope that this discovery will shed light on how human memory works.

Find out more

The scientists gave electric shocks to sea snails, training them to become defensive. When poked, the animals contracted for much longer than untrained snails.

The team then took a substance called RNA from the trained snails and transplanted it into the untrained ones. Those snails started to contract for longer. The scientists concluded that the memory of the electric shocks may somehow be contained in the RNA.

If true, this would change the way experts think about memory. The scientists warn that snails are far simpler creatures than humans. However, they are optimistic that their research could apply to us too, and lead to “new treatments” for human diseases.

Memory transplants sound like science fiction. Would they be a good idea?

Some say…

Yes. Nearly one million Britons suffer from dementia, and that number will only grow as people live longer. Transplants could help with the horrible memory loss that these people suffer. They could also be used in other ways: for example, a traumatic memory could be replaced with a happy one. This technology has the potential to improve our lives.

Others think…

That sounds terrifying! Our sense of who we are is closely tied to our memories. Without them, we would not know who we like, where we come from, what we have achieved, and so on. If we started experiencing the memories of others, our personalities would break down. Plus, if the wrong people get hold of the technology, they could abuse it.

You Decide

  1. Would life be better if we had no memories?

Activities

  1. Write two paragraphs: one describing your happiest memory, another explaining how you think you would be different without that memory.

Some People Say...

“No matter how much you suffer, you don’t want to lose those memories.”

Haruki Murakami

What do you think?

Word Watch

Contracted
Reduced in size. In this, case, the snails draw back tubes that they use to get rid of waste when they are shocked. No snails were seriously harmed in this experiment.
RNA
Ribonucleic acid. The substance carries messages between genes and the rest of the cell.
Dementia
A group of conditions that affect brain function.
Traumatic
Very upsetting.
Abuse
Use for bad purposes.

Subjects

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