Altering Memory

A preview to a topic being presented at the next Biztech general meeting.
By: Sunny Zhao


How good is your memory? Can you recall things from your childhood? From last month? Can you remember what you ate for breakfast today? Do you set reminders to do important things because you’re afraid you’ll forget to? Faced with these questions you might realize that not everything you remember is accurate or complete. Memories can become hazy and lose their potency over time. You might have some important memories that you don’t want to lose so how do you deal with this? We must first ask the most basic question, what is a memory?

In general, memories are records of everything you’ve ever experienced, both negative and positive. They shape the type of person you are and how you respond to certain situations. This is because at the fundamental level, memories remind us of what we should avoid and what we should pursue in order to survive.

Testing this, a Boston University alumnus by the name of Steve Ramirez has conducted research into the science of memory. He wanted to find out if he could activate specific memories or even change them. Using optogenetics, he inserted viruses into the brain cells of mice so that they would respond to light. Then he identified the cells in the brain of the mouse that were associated with a specific memory, which was in this case a memory of receiving an electric shock while exploring a box. Ramirez was able to reactivate those memory cells with a laser which caused the mouse to freeze in fear despite being in a different box.


“Steve Ramirez placing brain slices on a slide for microscopic examination at the Kilachand Center for Integrated Life Sciences & Engineering”

He was able to find a specific memory in an alive, well-functioning animal and actually manipulate that memory to activate with varying levels of intensity, thus changing it. Ramirez hopes to eventually use this method to help people overcome anxiety, depression, and maybe one day help treat the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s.

Though of course, the concept of memory manipulation carries its own ethical issues. Some people fear what could be done with the technology. If memories can be altered, could a memory be completely wiped from your mind? Can new ones be created as well? Expanding upon that, if we know how to identify specific memories, one must wonder if we might be able to one day extract and share the exact same memory with another living being.

Or perhaps, share it with something else.

Works Cited

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