Scientists Made Snails Remember Something That Never Happened to Them

May 22, 2018

By Veronique Greenwood

Transferring memories from one living thing to another sounds like the plot of an episode of “Black Mirror.” But it may be more realistic than it sounds — at least for snails.

In a paper published Monday in the journal eNeuro, scientists at the University of California-Los Angeles reported that when they transferred molecules from the brain cells of trained snails to untrained snails, the animals behaved as if they remembered the trained snails’ experiences.

David Glanzman, a professor of neurobiology at U.C.L.A. who is an author of the new paper, has been studying Aplysia californicaa sea snail, and its ability to make long-term memories for years. The snails, which are about five inches long, are a useful organism for studying how memories are formed because their neurons are large and relatively easy to work with.

In experiments by Dr. Glanzman and colleagues, when these snails get a little electric shock, they briefly retract their frilly siphons, which they use for expelling waste. A snail that has been shocked before, however, retracts its siphon for much longer than a new snail recruit.

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