Memory Booster, Aha Moments and Biological Quantum Phenomena

Today's Weizmann Institute news stories include two new papers from the prolific lab of Prof. Yadin Dudai. The first is on a protein that boosts memory in rats. Dudai and his group have been investigating this protein for several years. Previously, they had managed to show that blocking the protein, even for a very short time, erases memories. Now, they have demonstrated that adding more of the protein to certain areas of the brain can strengthen memory. Note: They increased the protein via gene-carrying viruses that infiltrated the rats' brain cells - not a clinic-ready technique. But until we find ways to medically enhance our memories, lead author Reut Shema reminds us that the brain is a dynamic organ - new learning is what causes this protein to be produced in the first place.

The second looks at learning and memory from a different angle altogether: The researchers have found a clue that might explain why things we "get" in a flash of insight tend to stick better in our memories than, say, facts we spend hours memorizing for a test. In a clever experiment, they got volunteers to experience "aha" moments while looking at camouflaged photos interspersed with quick glimpses of the undoctored images. Scans in the fMRI showed that the difference between remembering and forgetting the image behind the camouflage was activity in the amygdala - often called the brain's emotion center. So that satisfying "click" we feel when insight comes out of the blue might just be our amygdala deciding that what we've just figured out is also worth remembering.

(click here to see the solution to the image)

In the last item, quantum mechanics meets molecular biology - areas that, logically, should have nothing in common. Yet, it turns out that a phenomenon that physicists can normally only observe at extremely low temperatures can take place in everyday DNA - at room temperature. That phenomenon is spin selection - a preference for one of the two directions of angular momentum in subatomic particles. A team from the Weizmann Institute and the University of Münster in Germany observed the selection of electron spins when they attached DNA to metal electrodes. Apparently, this ability to choose one spin over the other comes from the "spin" of the DNA - the direction in which it twists around to form its double helix. Watch this space for future "spintronic" devices with DNA components.


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It is funny how memory works. I have no expertise in this area, only my views. I can imagine certain drugs having the ability to enhance memory for the general population, and being of specific benefit in cases like dementia.

What I have noted in myself about making memories is that it doesnt necessarily require a aha moment. Yes if I am having a great time, or its something like a first kiss, and adrenalin and many other natural chemicals are involved, yes I will automatically remember an event. But I have also found that to an extent I can make a conscious decision to make a memory. This is not about cramming but deciding and saying (silently) to myself, that this is momentous, this is something I should remember. Its not an automatic prompt, I have trained myself to stop and tell my brain to commit it to memory, because it is important.

So ,,, I wonder how much in the future manufactured drugs will be used in this kind of decision therapy for people to consciously commit something to memory, artificially?

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DWL, couldn't that just be called an aha in slow motion?

You could definitely see your expertise in the work you write. The sector hopes for even more passionate writers like you who aren't afraid to mention how they believe. All the time follow your heart. "We may pass violets looking for roses. We may pass contentment looking for victory." by Bern Williams.