Decapitated Worms Able To Regrow Their Heads, And Their Previous Memories

flatwormsMemories may be encoded in their DNA or stored outside of their brain, Smithsonian Magazine writes:

The researchers trained flatworms to travel across a rough surface to access food, then removed their heads. Two weeks later, after the heads grew back, the worms somehow regained their tendency to navigate across the terrain, as recently documented in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Interest in flatworm memories dates to the 1950s, when a series of strange experiments by Michigan biologist James McConnell indicated that worms could gain the ability to navigate a maze by being fed the ground-up remains of other flatworms that had been trained to run through the same maze. McConnell speculated that a type of genetic material called “memory RNA” was responsible for this phenomenon, and could be transferred between the organisms.

Subsequent research into flatworm memory RNA exploited the fact that the worms could easily regenerate heads after decapitation.

Previous research confirmed that the worms’ behavior is controlled by their brains, but it’s possible that some of their memories may have been stored in their bodies, or that the training given to their initial heads somehow modified other parts of their nervous systems, which then altered how their new brains grew.

There’s also another sort of explanation. The researchers speculate that epigenetics—changes to an organism’s DNA structure that alter the expression of genes—could play a role, perhaps encoding the memory permanently in the worms’s DNA.

7 Comments on "Decapitated Worms Able To Regrow Their Heads, And Their Previous Memories"

  1. maybe that means that your soul really is in your heart…

  2. what gave them Idea to feed the flatworms the ground up remains of other flatworms? besides a sense of humor

    • Calypso_1 | Jul 15, 2013 at 10:01 am |

      Some planaria are already cannibalistic. At the point in the experimentation that they began feeding the ‘memory-sample’ planaria to subjects, they had already determined that memories were existent at a biochemical level. Injections and grafts were attempted but failed, thus the feeding.

  3. liquidself | Jul 15, 2013 at 10:12 am |

    On the face of it; this seems like the first really solid evidence for
    Morphic Resonance; the past activity is transferred through a kinetic
    morphic field. Why always look inside the box?

    • Calypso_1 | Jul 15, 2013 at 10:17 am |

      I think the only way that you could begin to think along those lines is if you could show the same mechanisms existing at a transgenetic level.

  4. InfvoCuernos | Jul 15, 2013 at 11:09 pm |

    Is this really new? I could have sworn I read this in a Swamp Thing comicbook about twenty years ago.

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