Memory RNA

Memory RNA

Memory RNA is a now-discredited hypothetical form of RNA that was proposed by James V. McConnell and others as a means of explaining how long-term memories were stored in the brain. The concept behind it was that since RNA encoded information, and since living cells could produce and modify RNA in reaction to external events, it might also be used in neurons to record stimuli.[1]

One experiment that was purported to show a chemical basis for memory involved training planaria (flatworms) to solve an extremely simple "maze", then grinding them up and feeding them to untrained planaria to see if they would be able to learn more quickly. The experiment seemed to show such an effect, but it was later suggested that only sensitization was tranferred,[2] or that no transfer occurred and the effect was due to stress hormones in the donor.[1]

Memory RNA in science fiction

Memory RNA made some appearances in the science fiction of the time, often in the form of "skill pills" containing memory RNA that provided the consumer with new skills, or in the context of mind transfer. This concept shows up in several of Larry Niven's short stories and various episodes of The Invisible Man (2000 TV series).

A few Star Trek novels during the 1980s employed memory RNA as a plot device to allow a character to rapidly learn an alien language, in the form of an "RNA drip". The novel "Mighty Good Road" by Melissa Scott and a sequel also use it.

The basic principle or the memory RNA was also used by comic book writer Alan Moore to explain the origin of DC Comics' character the Swamp Thing in Saga of the Swamp Thing #21. In the story, believing the creature to be dead, a scientist super-villain performs an autopsy on the Swamp Thing and discovers that it is not scientist Alec Holland turned into a plant mutant, but swamp vegetation that after digesting the mortal remains of Holland, had absorbed his mind, knowledge, memories, and skills and created a new sentient being that believed itself to be Alec Holland. The planaria experiment is used in the story to back this theory.


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