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Memory Trace

December 12, 2005

Nobody can peer into your brain to see your memories. But, recently, scientists may have seen what a memory looks like in the brain of an insect.


The first live memory broadcast. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

For the first time, scientists have watched a memory forming in a living creature. That’s the claim of Carnegie Mellon biophysicist Roberto Galan. He and his colleagues studied honeybees responding to new odors. Each odor triggered a distinctive electrical pattern in the bees’ brains. But the same pattern also repeated itself well after the odor was gone.

ROVERTO GALAN (Carnegie Mellon):
So it’s like a kind of echo of the stimulus that reappears in a unpredictable manner after the stimulation.

Galan says this echo must be a memory of the odor, caught in the act of being stored. In fact, the scientists can identify the original odor just by looking at the echo. They hope to confirm their hypothesis by testing whether bees can remember things even if the echo is blocked.
I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.