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Scientists Write Memories Directly Into Fly Brains

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the hellllllp-me dept.

Biotech 137

TheClockworkSoul writes "Researchers at the University of Oxford have devised a way to write memories onto the brains of flies, revealing which brain cells are involved in making bad memories. The researchers said that in flies, just 12 brain cells were responsible for what is known as 'associative learning.' They modified these neurons by adding receptors for ATP, so that the cells activate in the presence of the chemical, but since ATP isn't usually found floating around a fly's brain, the flies generally behave just like any other fly. Most interestingly, however, is that the scientists then injected ATP into the flies' brains, in a form that was locked inside a light-sensitive chemical cage. When they shined a laser on the fly brains, the ATP was released, and the 'associative learning' cells were activated. The laser flash was paired with an odor, effectively giving the fly a memory of a bad experience with the odor that it never actually had, such that it then avoided the odor in later experiments. The researchers describe their findings in the journal Cell."

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137 comments

isnt this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775151)

like if i made you smell something then hit you in the head with a pipe

you would think pipe when you smelled that again?

Re:isnt this (3, Informative)

brentonboy (1067468) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775459)

It would be like making someone smell something and then NOT hitting them in the head with the pipe, but later, they think they remember being hit with the pipe even though they really weren't.

Bad odor (5, Funny)

Tibia1 (1615959) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775153)

The scientists later discovered that even fly's without this injected memory avoided the odor. One man was quoted saying "It smelled pretty bad."

Re:Bad odor (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775451)

The scientists later discovered that even fly's without this injected memory avoided the odor. One man was quoted saying "It smelled pretty bad."

Still later, scientists discovered that flies would avoid odors they associated with having lasers shined through their heads, regardless of cellular modifications.

Re:Bad odor (3, Funny)

Kratisto (1080113) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775551)

Much later, scientists discovered that the flies were detecting the odor of burning brain tissue, and not the odor they intended to implant as memory.

Holy shit (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775155)

This is so ridiculously awesome.
There is nothing cooler than this experiment.

Re:Holy shit (1)

TaggartAleslayer (840739) | more than 4 years ago | (#29776725)

Am I the only one that read this comment and imagined a dude completely stoned, laughing hysterically making tiny "Help me! Help me!" voices while motioning his hands in a ridiculous manner.

Wait a second... (4, Funny)

greyhueofdoubt (1159527) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775157)

Wouldn't having a laser pointed at your brain in the presence of an odor kind of count as a 'bad experience'?

I'm not sure how you create a control group for an experiment like this- shine the laser in the absence of odors so the fly is terrified of clean places? Isn't that how most flies act already?

-b

Re:Wait a second... (5, Insightful)

TheClockworkSoul (1635769) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775177)

Well, just a thought, but wouldn't one such possible control be shining the laser on flies without ATP receptors?

Re:Wait a second... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775541)

good idea

Re:Wait a second... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775593)

What's the "whoosh" equivalent for when someone explains a joke that doesn't need it? "Thump?"

Re:Wait a second... (2, Insightful)

HeLLFiRe1151 (743468) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775183)

I was think perhaps associating the laser with an odor that the fly normally likes would provide a more accurate approach. What do I know though, I'm couldn't even pass for a geek let alone a scientist.

Re:Wait a second... (1)

rhathar (1247530) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775677)

And yet you had better ideas than the ones everyone else posted. Bravo.

Re:Wait a second... (1)

joeme1 (959209) | more than 4 years ago | (#29776201)

There are nice guys on here. I was thinking about his spelling mistakes, but you were thinking about his beneficial contribution to the group. Bravo.

Re:Wait a second... (1)

EdIII (1114411) | more than 4 years ago | (#29776217)

I was actually thinking that since we are talking about flies and odors, that it would be a bad idea to fart in the lab. It might mess around with the results. Some scientists messing around with the results more than others.

Re:Wait a second... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29776415)

I'm not sure how you create a control group for an experiment like this- shine the laser in the absence of odors so the fly is terrified of clean places? Isn't that how most flies act already?

No. Inject the control group with vehicle (another chemical, e. g., GTP, in the same kind of light-sensitive cage) and treat it exactly as the ATP group.

Additional experiments have to be performed using other receptors for completely different chemicals, with controls as above.

Hannibal Lecter style? (1)

zoftie (195518) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775211)

This kind of surgery smells of butchery. Can't wait for upgrade patches.
http://xkcd.org/644/

Re:Hannibal Lecter style? (1, Interesting)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775369)

In the novel (not the movie)Hannibal, Lecter considers using psychotherapy/hypnosis/drugs to transfer his sister's memories into Clarice.

Also, Clarice and Hannibal elope and flee the country and they also fuck. But you won't see that ending in the movie ;)

Re:Hannibal Lecter style? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775643)

So you're saying Lecter wants to fuck his sister?

Re:Hannibal Lecter style? (2, Interesting)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775723)

Short answer: Hannibal wants to fuck his sister and Clarice wants to fuck her daddy, but that's hidden under the romanticism of transference and psychotherapy and hypnosis and whatnot.

You want explicit? Earlier in the book about the pedophile Mason Verger's [wikipedia.org] sodomizing little kids (including his own sister) with candy bars. He calls it "taking the chocolate". His sister gets her revenge by stuffing his pet eel into his throat after electro-ejaculating him with a cattle prod to collect his semen in a condom so her lesbian partner can have a heir the Verger estate. Fascinating, if unbelievable. And no, you won't see that stuff in the movie, either ;)

Note: the wikipedia link above is based off of the novel, not that pussy movie.

Re:Hannibal Lecter style? (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 4 years ago | (#29776243)

You want explicit? Earlier in the book about the pedophile Mason Verger's sodomizing little kids (including his own sister) with candy bars. He calls it "taking the chocolate".

Are you sure? I thought the described scene was actually a little MORE explicit than 'candy bars'. A little less actual chocolate, and little more... brown and foul. If I misinterpreted that, yikes. I have a sick mind.

Memory? Or an instinct? (3, Insightful)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775229)

Are we sure it was a new memory they created? Because we can't just interview the flies about what they were thinking, how do we know the smell conjured up a fake memory rather than, say, just a strong feeling of unease?

Re:Memory? Or an instinct? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775255)

As you might guess, the article title and summary are incorrect. The scientists *didn't* write a memory into the fly's brain, they exposed it to something to memorize (the smell) and then artificially triggered the store-this-as-bad circuitry. Which is still cool and interesting and all that.

Re:Memory? Or an instinct? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775267)

Flies don't really have real memories. A feeling of unease is all they are talking about. "Association" is probably a better word than memory.

Re:Memory? Or an instinct? (1)

Krneki (1192201) | more than 4 years ago | (#29776471)

Do you offer as a volunteer as human subject?
  Think about it, you could get some real good porn memories.

Sounds like a bad experience to me (4, Interesting)

mhwombat (1616301) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775305)

Doesn't having your "this is a bad experience" receptors activated count as a bad experience? I don't mean the whole brain-and-laser unpleasantness, I mean having negative-association cells firing in your brain at all. It might not just count as a bad association later, it might be pretty unpleasant now. In which case it's not a fake memory, it's a real memory.

For flies maybe this question has no meaning... maybe flies aren't conscious. If they did this to a higher animal (I have a horrible suspicion they will) it would be a question to ask. But a good question for this experiment would be: when they fire those brain cells, do the flies try to avoid what's going on immediately?

Re:Sounds like a bad experience to me (1)

Atryn (528846) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775595)

But a good question for this experiment would be: when they fire those brain cells, do the flies try to avoid what's going on immediately?

Yeah like if the fly ALSO happened to be taking a crap at the moment the laser was fired, would they now forever find that unpleasant too? Or just the idea of being locked in a cage with several other flies? Hmmm...

Re:Sounds like a bad experience to me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775779)

If they try it on my girlfriend, it won't work anyways. She will probably keep going to that 'sooooooooooo cuuuuuuuuuuute LOL light", as her only two alive brain cells will be busy thinking on how to put that "kewl" experience at her MySpace page... Well, she doesn't need a brain anyways. She is pretty as hell.

Re:Sounds like a bad experience to me (2, Funny)

TaggartAleslayer (840739) | more than 4 years ago | (#29776783)

You've never actually had a girlfriend, have you? It's ok. Someone probably just implanted the odor of her in your brain and associated it with random stereotypes that apply only to 13 year olds. And yes, AC, she was very pretty... Just look into this light, and it's all going to work out.

Re:Sounds like a bad experience to me (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 4 years ago | (#29776259)

I think it's a case of shifting definitions. What you and I normally mean by 'memories' is not necessarily the definition that the scientists involved are working with. For practical reasons, they are reworking the definition to fit what they can manipulate and measure. That's fine, as far as it goes, as long as no confusion results by mixing two disciplines that each mean slightly different things with the term 'memory'. Psychology, for instance. Some organisms without any neurons have 'memories', but it's sloppy to think they are the same things we experience.

Obligatory The Fly (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775321)

Help me!

I can't wait to do this to women... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775325)

... admit it, you would if you could get away with it!

If you want to write some memories... (0)

topham (32406) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775345)

I've got a list of beautiful women I'd like to remember, if you know what I mean...

Jewel Staite
Summer Glu
Laura Harris

Re:If you want to write some memories... (1)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775759)

Summer Glau really isn't that attractive... she reminds me of a sickly Christina Ricci.

Obligatory (4, Funny)

GameMaster (148118) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775353)

WHOA, I know Kung-Fu!

Re:Obligatory (1)

courteaudotbiz (1191083) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775381)

The reference to the Matrix is not that bad, but what about "The Fly" and "Total Recall" at the same time? Strange mix though...

Re:Obligatory (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775497)

For some reason what I thought of was "Blade Runner", with the implanting memories.

Androids may dream of electric sheep, but I don't even want to know what flies dream of.

Why? (0, Troll)

SilverHatHacker (1381259) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775367)

Is there any morally correct application for 'writing' false memories into a brain? Or is this yet one more experiment that we've done just because we can, hang the consequences? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for scientific investigation, but this seems like it's beginning to cross the line.
On the one hand, this teaches us more about memory. On the other, what's stopping it from one day being used on humans? Just because it's not the primary goal doesn't rule it out as an extension.
Maybe I'm just paranoid, but I think there are some experiments that just shouldn't be done.

Re:Why? (3, Insightful)

Elokane (1558107) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775383)

The distance from this to what you think about when you say "memory" is as far as your use of "morals" in your argument irrelevant.

Re:Why? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775427)

Who died and made you the guy (or gal) who decides what is and is not moral for the entire human race?

Quit bitching about people investigating these things, and instead bitch about the people who use their ideas for evil if and when that happens.

Nearly everything can be misused by someone, somewhere. If people like you had their way, we'd still be in the dark ages, god forbid anyone learn anything that might one-day come back to bite us.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775469)

Yeah, we should definitely not pursue medicine. After all it's a small extension to transform medicine into a killing agent.

Re:Why? (4, Interesting)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775479)

Is there any morally correct application for 'writing' false memories into a brain?

How about treating PTSD?

Re:Why? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775689)

Ahhhh....the beaches, the babes, all that free cake... I sure am gonna miss Vietnam.

Re:Why? (1)

Snowblindeye (1085701) | more than 4 years ago | (#29776011)

Is there any morally correct application for 'writing' false memories into a brain?

How about treating PTSD?

Very good point. Also, addiction. Basically, you'd erase the 'memory' of the urge to consume the particular substance your addicted to.

There was a story in the news six months ago about some research that would make it possible to do this in humans. PTSD and addiction were two examples they explicitly mentioned.

Re:Why? (3, Interesting)

talcite (1258586) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775487)

Is there any morally correct application for 'writing' false memories into a brain?

Identifying the areas responsible for trauma and bad memories can be useful for treatment of patients who have experienced things like car crashes. It can help by reducing the effects associated with these memories.
The thing about research is that lots of times the applications are not immediately obvious. Academia does research all the time on subjects that people don't have uses for yet. You're right in pointing out the possible negative side effects of this knowledge though. It's something that is very often unavoidable in research. A good example of this would be nuclear fission and it's range of uses.

Re:Why? (3, Insightful)

MrMista_B (891430) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775499)

Is there anyone in you family that has alzheimers?

Is there anyone in your family that suffers moderate to severe memory loss as a result of accident, disease, or trauma?

Does your child have physical and mental problems that impair learning?

Fuck the flies, and fuck you for suggesting that research like this is 'immoral'. What's immoral is your haughty 'I'm holier than thou' attitude that just because you can't immediately grasp all the implications of an experiment, it shouldn't be done, the benefit be damned.

Re:Why? (-1, Troll)

Atryn (528846) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775603)

And speaking of fucking, how about we create a negative association with fucking in convicted rapists?

Re:Why? (2, Interesting)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775773)

Because that worked out so well in Clockwork Orange...

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29776591)

So fire is also a bad idea, because it "worked out so well" in BackDraft?

Re:Why? (0)

NFN_NLN (633283) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775721)

Is there anyone in you family that has alzheimers?

I don't remember.

Is there anyone in your family that suffers moderate to severe memory loss as a result of accident, disease, or trauma?

Really, I don't remember.

Does your child have physical and mental problems that impair learning?

What are you trying to get at, I don't understand.

Re:Why? (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775517)

Two basic lines of response:

A) Sure. Loads of morally correct applications. There are plenty of situations where the mere existence of a given memory is the point of the exercise. Many forms of instruction/training, for instance. If the memory of having read the manual is false; but the contents of the manual you falsely remember having read are true, you win. You'd need the subject's consent; but it isn't at all hard to imagine plenty of situations where people would be delighted to knowingly have various useful memories implanted.

B)An experimental result like this is quite far from application, well within the realm of basic research into memory functions. Understanding memory function, while it would have both positive and negative potential, is arguably a net positive. Right now, if I want to implant an unpleasant memory, or fuck with your sense of reality, or otherwise do nasty things to you, I don't really need a sophisticated understanding of memory. A water bottle and your T-shirt and no sense of decency will do well enough. If, however, I want to improve education, or understand why certain psychiatric disorders include serious memory problems, or treat brain injuries, or what have you, knowledge of the neurology of memory systems is necessary.

There could certainly be, at least in principle, scientific/technological developments that are just plain bad news; but I don't think that this is one of them. Virtually all the potential downsides can be achieved(or at least closely approximated) by far lower tech means, while many of the potential upsides are otherwise out of reach.

Re:Why? (2, Interesting)

Greyfox (87712) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775519)

If I could replace those years at school with a few minutes of some guy shining a laser directly into my brain, I'd do so in a heartbeat.

Re:Why? (2, Insightful)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775529)

" I'm all for scientific investigation,"

i don't think you managed to fool anyone with that statement.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775539)

I'm thinking the rationalization for this would be that if they can write a bad memory they may be able to reverse the process and correct certain mental disorders. I can't think of the name of it, but I remember there is like a couple of mental issues that cause people to have extreme panic attacks when they encounter certain things. Science-wise I think it opens the door to understanding alot of different mental phenomenon but life-wise I think it opens a door to all kinds of abuse and is a scary concept.

I don't think the science is ever really the problem, its the greedy, evil, humans that abuse it for their own gains. Oppenheimer gave us the technology we used it to massacre thousands.

Re:Why? (2)

geekgirlandrea (1148779) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775571)

It's a *fly*, for fuck's sake. Are you so intellectually sterile you can't believe in simple curiousity, and must suspect some nefarious ulterior motive in its place?

Re:Why? (2, Interesting)

Coraon (1080675) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775587)

How about the ability to teach someone something almost instantly. For example, imagine bing able to give someone a university degrees worth of knowledge and then have them spend the time in school to see how they apply it. Or eventually being able to have yourself cloned and then when your near death be downloaded into your new body. No more pesky death to worry about.

Re:Why? (1)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775783)

Because over-population isn't already a major issue. That's ok, though... we'll just keep the youth and immortality expensive, that way only really, really rich people can afford it, continuing to live on into eternity and amassing ever greater levels of wealth for themselves. Only, the clones can't reproduce... and.. and.. then it just gets more and more like a strange cross between Underworld and Vanilla Sky from there.

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775915)

That teaching thing reminds me of The 4th R [gutenberg.org]. (Fun read, even if a bit dated in some parts.) Of course implanting memories or imprints of bad experiences could cause havoc if association combined with feedback loops come into play. (Hope that's not too much a spoiler.)

As for that cloning thing, if I could do mind transfer - why not see if it works on somebody better than a clone of myself? If I had that tech, creating a scenario ala Freejack would seem more fun.

Re:Why? (1)

Jesus_666 (702802) | more than 4 years ago | (#29776559)

I actually don't see much of an ethical problem with this experiment as the technique only works on genetically-modified flies and requires brain surgery -stealthily rewriting someone's memories is not likely to work. The human brain contains ATP so they can't even use the same receptors and introducing a new chemical that doesn't yet have receptors and doesn't interact with the bran in other ways might prove difficult.

Re:Why? (1)

TaggartAleslayer (840739) | more than 4 years ago | (#29776857)

First, let's discuss what is going on, then we can discuss what may come of it.

This is not the ability to implant true-to-life false memories as implied. It is the ability to associate stimuli with reactions in flies, without having the actual stimulus present.

Potential actual applications for this in humans are mostly positive. Sure, you could make someone feel really bad about the color blue, reading the bible, watching NBC, or swimming in public, but even then, as with all phobias, rational examination wins out. People, over time, generally reject ideas that are in opposition to their own experiences.

Where it could help is when someone does have a true phobia, something irrational, something intangible that is hurting them. Having a positive association implanted to help level off the negatives could be quite beneficial. It wouldn't solve anything, but it would give a leg up to recovery. Think of it as an immune booster for the psyche.

Awesome (1)

pieisgood (841871) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775395)

We already know we can implant false memories into humans and now a method for creating false bad memories in flies by command? Things are looking good. I just want a way to model this as a system instead of just being able to target groups of cells. Full neural systems would be awesome!

So how did they mess with the control group? (4, Funny)

adageable (972913) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775443)

Hmm... let's see here..
Bad odor.... Check.
Laser beam directed INTO the brain.... uh... Check.
"Bad memories" induced.... err... Check.


And in other news... sugar tastes good.

Re:So how did they mess with the control group? (2, Funny)

janimal (172428) | more than 4 years ago | (#29776395)

Right, they should've done it for something flies really like. Like poo.

Biotech is so sexy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775445)

Man, this shit is way cooler than IT... :)
I really wanna do some brain memory programming...

You Remember The Spider,,, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775463)

that lived in a bush outside your window?
Orange body, green legs?
Watched her build a web all Summer.
Then one day there was a big egg in it.
The egg hatched...
And a hundred baby spiders came out
And they ate her.

Some conspiracy... (1)

formfeed (703859) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775625)

This must be how THEY implant false memories about alien abduction into people's mind:

The aliens are all false memories, the probing isn't.

Re:Some conspiracy... (1)

Jesus_666 (702802) | more than 4 years ago | (#29776565)

I wasn't aware that the colon is the most direct way to access the brain. Then again, maybe if you use a really powerful laser...

Post-Experiment Fly Interview... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775685)

"Help me! Help me!"

Scary thot (0)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775693)

Just 12 brain-cells? Sounds ready for lobbyists to use on politicians. They won't have to use cash anymore.

Flies and odours 101 (0, Troll)

icepick72 (834363) | more than 4 years ago | (#29775811)

A fly was given a faked bad memory associated with an odour. How screwed up is that when flies like shit.

Hmmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29775853)

Does this explain why I have 8 years' worth of awful memories of George W. Bush being President? Please say yes.

The "explanation" is tricking the uninformed! (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#29776517)

When they shined a laser on the fly brains, the ATP was released, and the 'associative learning' cells were activated. The laser flash was paired with an odor, effectively giving the fly a memory of a bad experience with the odor that it never actually had, such that it then avoided the odor in later experiments.

People who don't know how brains learn, might believe the "that it never actually had" part.

But if you know anything about that, you will know that what they did, was the same thing as what we call "learning": Associating something with something else.
In this case they just provided the "bad feeling" part of the association, while the odor was in place. Causing the fly to learn that the odor causes that bad feeling.
The same thing as if someone would always kick you in the balls when you see a pretty lady. (Just that the kicker would be invisible.)

And actually, a large laser on your brain *is* something pretty bad, that is unknown to a fly.
So this is nothing very special at all! They just found another way to "kick the fly in the balls". ^^
With an indirect way, using ATP and laser, but still just that.

will this work (1)

anonymous9991 (1582431) | more than 4 years ago | (#29776613)

will this work on my girlfriend, LOL yes honey I did remember your birthday, dont you remember I got you that ring...you must have lost it

Re:will this work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29776749)

yest it will with your imagenary girlfriend.
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