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Well, this is my last entry as guest blogger for Ferrebeekeeper. Tomorrow, Beekeeper Prime returns to his home city, hopefully refreshed and renewed and ready to pick up his regular duties. I have had a wonderful time and pray I didn’t muck things up too badly. I also regret I have been too busy to write a post every night––there are so many things I want to share here––but time is a powerful and cruel lord. Beekeeper Prime really is a master of this form, and while I have always been impressed, I am doubly so now.

So, in honor of happy experiences and learning new things (and science fiction!), I present to you my final post.

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What are memories? It is a big question without a satisfying answer. A more manageable question (for neuroscientists, at least) is WHERE are memories. So far the debate over that topic has been fierce, ongoing, and decidedly unresolved.

Some neuroscientists believe that memories are stored in the synapses (connections between nerve cells), while others think memories are located in the more permanent and accessible nuclei of neurons. The former is like writing a note in the sand of a beach. The latter is more akin to placing a file in a metal cabinet. It seems there is merit to both ideas, but who am I to chime in?

A helpful chart…?

Recently, some researchers at UCLA (Los Angeles is neat, I keep telling you) drew closer to an answer of memory-storage question with an experiment involving seas snails.

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aeolid nudibranch

Sea snails learn in similar ways as mammals, but since they have a paltry 20,000 neurons compared to a human being’s 100 billion or so, they are profoundly easier to study.

The sea snail experiment required a snail to be shocked with a small electrical charge, causing the poor snail to curl into a defensive ball for about 10 seconds. Gradually the shock levels were increased until the snail, wondering what it ever did to deserve such shabby treatment, was staying curled up for 50 seconds at a time after EVERY shock, no matter the intensity. The sea snail was trained.

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Micromelo undatus, or the miniature melo

Then the researches extracted a bit of RNA (ribonucleic acid, which forms proteins based on a cell’s DNA instructions) from the trained snail and injected that RNA into an untrained sea snail. Then they zapped this new, freshly injected snail with a shock. Lo and behold, the untrained snail curled up for…50 seconds!

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Littorina littorea, A.K.A. a periwinkle 

As a control test, the heartless-but-on-to-something researchers also zapped an untrained and un-injected snail. That snail curled up for the original 10 seconds.

This, in a weird and brutal way, suggests that there was a “memory” transfer from one sea snail to the other.

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A very beautiful nudibranch

Now, this obviously doesn’t answer directly anything at all, but it does suggest an interesting direction for the research to move in.

Do memories have a physical form? Are they tangible things? Can they be copied? Can they be transferred from one human brain to another?

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The sea snail says, “Yes!” and probably, “Ouch, stop that!”

This is well trodden ground for science fiction stories, but the practical implications are astounding. All hail the noble sea snail! We honor thy sacrifice.

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