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False memories created in mice, 'Total Recall' can't be far

Scientists convince mice they remembered something that didn't happen. So where's that luxury cruise I want to recall?

Memory formation in mice is probably very similar to that in humans.

It's just a matter of time before we all have replicant companions, right? And they'll need artificial memories like in "Blade Runner."

That's why we should all thank the scientists at the RIKEN-MIT Center for Neural Circuit Genetics, who have managed to implant artificial memories in mice. Doing it with biological androids should be no problem.

Reporting in the latest edition of the journal Science, Susumu Tonegawa and colleagues describe how they were able to get mice to believe they had been shocked in one place, when it had really happened in another.

They used a technique called optogenetics, in which neurons are modified to respond to light.

The researchers put the mice in one environment and then identified and labeled hippocampus cells in the mice brains that were forming memories of the location.

A day later, the mice were shocked in a different environment while the same cells were stimulated. When they were reintroduced to the first environment, they froze in fear, showing they remembered being shocked there even though it never happened.

"The recall of this false memory was context-specific, activated similar downstream regions engaged during natural fear memory recall, and was also capable of driving an active fear response," the researchers said in the study.

"Our data demonstrate that it is possible to generate an internally represented and behaviorally expressed fear memory via artificial means."

The process of memory formation is believed to be similar in mice and humans, suggesting that the know-how could one day be used to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder.

I prefer to believe this basic science will eventually yield "Total Recall"-style commercial memories, where you can shop around for amazing experiences you never had.

After all, who wouldn't want to remember, say, a trip to Mars without all the dangers it involves?

I, for one, can't wait to remember my fabulous past that never occurred.