Addition of single gene improves learning and memory
PRINCETON, N.J. -- In an achievement that one day may give scientists the ability to boost human intelligence, Princeton University researchers reported today that they have genetically modified mice to have improved learning and memory.
Neurobiologist Joe Tsien, with collaborators at MIT and Washington University, found that adding a single gene to mice significantly boosted the animals' ability to solve maze tasks, learn from objects and sounds in their environment and to retain that knowledge. This strain of mice, named Doogie, also retained into adulthood certain brain features of juvenile mice, which, like young humans, are widely believed to be better than adults at grasping large amounts of new information.
The work, reported in the September 2 issue of Nature, is a breakthrough in memory research and reveals a common biochemical mechanism at the root of nearly all learning. It shows that the brain uses the same basic tool when it forms associations, even though parts of the brain work in specialized ways and deal with diverse types of information, such as sights, sounds and touch. The result gives scientists confirmation of a long-standing theory about how we learn and remember, an idea posed in 1949 by Donald O. Hebb that had been central to memory research.
The finding also shows that genetic improvement of intelligence and memory in mammals is now feasible, thus offering a striking example of how genetic technology may affect mankind and society in the next century.
"Joe is doing some really interesting and fundamental work," said Ira Black,
chairman of neuroscience and cell biology at Rutgers University. "It's a novel
approach. It's very exciting and holds the hope of not only making animals
smarter, but also, ultimately of having a (human) gene therapy for use in are
Contact: Steven Schultz