The researchers first moved the memory of one living being to another

In a scientific first, researchers claim to have transferred memories between sea snails by injecting RNA from a trained sea snail into one that hasn't been trained - and observing the trained response in the second snail.

The findings of the study could affect our understanding of memory.

However, speaking with The Guardian, Tomás Ryan, a studier of memory at Trinity College Dublin, is not exactly convinced that Glanzman and his team have demonstrated an ability to transfer what we consider a personal memory. But scientists have been studying sea snails for a long time, and they know an very bad lot about how the organisms learn. This priming component is still unknown, but the process seems to involve epigenetic modification - something RNA is heavily involved in.

A team of neuroscientists have managed to find a way to transfer memories from one individual to another via injection, but only in snails so far. Experimental creatures became sea snail.

As it turned out, the RNA samples retained the memory of the electric shock, causing the untrained snails to exhibit a defense mechanism that lasted nearly as long as that of the donor snails.

The snails were trained to develop a defensive reaction.

What happened next was awesome.

In comparison, snails tapped without electricity retreated for an average of 10 seconds. Animals have developed a protective reflex, expressed in the contraction of the muscles during 50 seconds in subsequent contacts with the electrodes.

"It's as though we transferred the memory", said David Glanzman, who is also a member of UCLA's Brain Research Institute.

"These are marine snails and, when they are alarmed, they release a handsome purple ink to hide themselves from predators", Glanzman said in a statement.

They then added RNA from trained and untrained snails to these dishes to observe the effect on the neurons. The snails received five electric shock - one every 20 minutes, and after 24 hours they repeated the process. The untrained snails that receive RNA from untrained donors showed no defensive response. It has always been thought that memories are stored in the synapses in our brains with each neuron containing several thousand synapses.

The UCLA professor of integrative biology holds a different view, believing that memories are stored in the nuclei of neurons.

"If memories were stored at synapses, there is no way our experiment would have worked".

"In a field like this which is so full of dogma, where we are waiting for people to retire so we can move on, we need as many new ideas as possible", he said. Experiments in the 1960s, however, suggested RNA could play a role in making memories, though the work was largely written off as irreproducible.

Transhumanists prophesise a future where our memories can be uploaded to the cloud which can then be transferred into a robotic body to live forever. "So these snails are alarmed and release ink, but they aren't physically damaged by the shocks", he said.

But if Glanzman is right, his discovery could be a game-changer for those whose lives are negatively impacted by memory.

  • Aubrey Nash