World first after Chinese scientists use CRISPR gene editing to erase fearful memories from rats

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

Up until now it’s only been possible to modify memories using optogentics, by using gene editing scientists have changed the game.

 

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Ah, memories, they can be some of our best assets or our most painful tormentors. There are memories you want to keep and cherish forever, and then there are memories, probably like the memories of the current coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19, that you’d like to forget. Over the past number of years I’ve been following the development of memory technologies that let us do everything from downloading and storing human memories, re-juvinate memory recall, transferring memories, and uploading information to people’s brains Matrix style, as well as editing human memories like editing a word document, all the way through to connecting our brains to Artificial Intelligence’s as well as memory technologies that help erase people’s addictions, fears, and memories. Yes folks, science fiction and the Men in Black’s memory erasing pen thing has nothing on reality.

 

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Now, a year after a Chinese researcher used gene editing to create, or “design,” two twins who were immune from HIV, and in another development in the memory space researchers at Peking University in China have announced they’ve used a new technique that leans on CRISPR gene editing to erase memories from rats – and if combined with another technology I discussed recently it means you could create a genetically engineered aerosol to erase someone’s memories… in the future. More specifically, they removed fearful memories from their test subjects, and it’s not the first time I’ve seen this happen as I mentioned above so it’s fair to say the field is continuing its advance and will continue to do so until the technology is either good enough to use or “perfected.”

Yi Ming, one of the paper’s co-authors, told Ecns.cn that the new technique could be used to treat pathological memories and memory-related conditions such as PTSD, drug addiction, chronic pain, and chronic stress. Ming acknowledged that negative memories could be essential for survival, but when too much focus is given to them, they cause psychological and physical disorders.

 

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The study was published in Science Advances and leads to some tricky ethical questions. In many ways, our memories shape us. Therefore losing some of them, even the painful ones, could change us fundamentally as individuals.

Another question is how the researchers would decide which memories to delete and which to keep because at the moment their research doesn’t make it clear how those memories are targeted. But while the study doesn’t clarify how memories are targeted or what safety measures are taken to ensure that essential memories aren’t erased it’s an interesting albeit freaky scary concept that will inevitably see even more research and even more developments emerge in the near future.

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