Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Flies with Bad Memories

DrosophilaImage via Wikipedia

Victoria Gill, science reporter for BBC News, wrote in her article "Bad memories written with lasers" last Friday about researchers who "have devised a way to write memories onto the brains of flies, revealing which brain cells are involved in making bad memories." This reveals memory to be much more mechanistic than I have written about here in the past. Just last night I was in a conversation with someone that went something like "if memories and thoughts are chemical, why can't I make you drink something and see or hear a specific memory?" Miesonbock at Oxford has found 12 cells in the fly's brain that are responsible for "associative learning." The really important part of the story for me is where Miesenbock says "I have every expectation that the fundamental mechanisms that produce these error signals are the same in the brain of the fly as they are in the brain of the human." I think it is a huge leap from the fly to the complexity of the human brain but it is not so huge a leap as it was from the Friday before last. Twelve neurons that can be tricked into associated a smell with a predator is still quite a ways away from understanding the role communication and social interaction play in learning, but this is certainly an important step in understanding how neurons connect and create learning.
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