Thanks For The Memory


Networks and networking takes up more and more of ourday. Many of us spend more time than we should on our smartphones, chasing tweets, posting photographs on our cyber wall or even liking someone else’s information.

An interesting facet about the bits of information being tweeted and re-tweeted is the length of time that they are ‘remembered’. By remembered I mean actively running around the system and not stored on a desktop or printed out to be stuck in one of the piles of processed tree composting quietly on the tops of our desks.

The tweets going viral and rushing to and fro around the net is somewhat analogous to our short-term memory, which is usually accurate – even if we don’t admit to it. The bits of information haven’t been stored anywhere to be reconstructed later, when the re-assembly can be quite different from the original.

Our biggest and most complex network is the neuronal network in our skulls.  The length of time a memory is ‘fresh in our mind’ of course varies with the subject, but during that time, the information is actively circulating as electrical signals rushing from neuron to neuron, allowing us to feel smug about that compliment on our driving prowess digitally expressed by the other driver who, somehow, ended up on the verge using sign language through his window.

Putting a brain together is a huge challenge. A first step was reported recently (1). In this case the neuronal net was two-dimensional. The base was a glass chip with a ring-shape protein coat on which fetal rat hippocampal cells were cosseted so that they grew into a ring of about 50 interconnected neurons. An electrical pulse stimulated the network and the activity was followed by fluorescence at the synaptic junctions.

The exciting result is that the activity could be followed for 12 seconds – certainly as long as any of us should be feeling smug about our driving, but a single electrical pulse does not a thought make, nor 50 neurons a brain. But it’s a start.

  1. A. Vishwanathan, G-Q. Bi & H. C. Zeringue, Lab Chip, 11, 1081-1088, (2011). 

2 Responses so far.

  1. I find that interesting to say the least.

  2. Thanks Mike, good to hear.

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