THE MEMORY OF ALL THAT

Memory is the greatest problem of old age. If this could be sorted out, then the so-called oldies will have less stress and a more peaceful life. With the progress of science, nothing seems to be beyond the realm of possibility.

In a radical experiment, one character’s memories are moved to another’s brain. It sounds like the plot of a science-fiction film. But fantasy is closer to becoming a reality after neuroscientists were able to transfer a memory from one animal to another.

The memories were the recollections of being given a mild electric shock, in sea slugs zapped repeatedly for two days. When material from their brains was injected into sea slugs that had never been shocked, they reacted exactly the same way to the weak touch of a wire.

The results suggest memories can be physically transferred and follow claims from experiments in the 1960s that this could lead to ‘memory pills’ or jabs. The authors of the latest study, from the University of California in Los Angeles, say it could lead to a treatment to block unwanted memories – just like in the film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The study says its results offer ‘dramatic support’ for the idea that memory can be stored in ribonucleic acid, or RNA – the biochemical cousin of DNA – which is used to copy and transport our genetic code.

‘Our results suggest that RNA could eventually be used to modify, either enhance or depress memories.’ The UCLA scientists, led by Professor David Glanzman, observed that the frightened sea slugs learned to pull their gills into their bodies in response to an electric shock. Untrained slugs, which should have been unafraid of an electrical wire, also retracted their gills after being injected in the necks with RMA from the frightened slugs. Other slugs, not given the injections, did not react according to the study published in the journal eNeuro.

Professor George Kemenes of the University of Sussex said: ‘It might give rise to novel treatment to eliminate memories related to post-dramatic stress syndrome or to alleviate memory loss caused by dementia, but that could be a long time away.’

As I said at the outset, any progress in the memory region could be a blessing whenever it happens.

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