While scientists across the globe are competing to master the use of gene manipulation to grow new body parts and repair broken organs, others are using gene therapy to tinker with our memories.
Although I disapprove of their research methods, some of the findings from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, are both exciting and disturbing. Ami Citri, and his colleagues, tested the neural pathways following positive and negative stimuli in mice. Those mice exposed to cocaine, showed a distinctive pattern of gene activity in the hippocampus and amygdala of their brains. The patterns were so clear, that Citri claims a 90% degree of accuracy when guessing the experience mice were subjected to during testing.
From their results, Citri surmises that good and bad memories are recorded in our brains in differing ways. He even suggests that the intensity of experience can be ascertained by the genetic activity, such as the mouse’s first taste of sugar compared with a sugar addicted rodent. This memory encoding is the result of external conditions affecting which genes are expressed in protein production. In theory, the presence of certain proteins following an incident, should indicate whether an event was stored as a good or bad memory.
Citri believes that as well as a peak in gene activity, longer term markers may be encoded within the genetic expression too. These epigenetic signatures could reveal a body’s reaction to a past event, or maybe even passed on to future generations as an inherited trait.
Citri hopes that these findings may lead to the successful treatment of neurological conditions, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Rather than reliving painful experiences in therapy, he hopes to find a one off treatment which can change a memory’s genetic signature from a negative to a positive pattern, by using gene manipulation. He claims that early trials in mice are promising.
I cannot help but think of science fiction films like Total Recall or Paycheck, where the lead character has their memories wiped for personal or financial gain. I understand that plenty of psychological stresses and strains, can lead to physical illness, and/or unwanted distress, but how can we be sure that this kind of therapy will not be misused?
Is it wise to blast away all our negative experiences? Are we not a product of our past endeavours? What would society become, if we never learn from our mistakes? I fear that this emerging branch of science could have serious ethical considerations; ones which require urgent attention, before we all become emotionless drones.
Sam Nash is the author of the sci-fi conspiracy thriller, The Aurora Mandate. Release date 19th June 2018. Preorders from Amazon. You can find her at https://www.samnash.org or on Twitter @samnashauthor or Facebook.com/samnash.author. Alternatively, you can download her free prequel novella series. Kindle: mybook.to/T-A-J-P01 ePub: books2read.com/u/4jwjJo