ScienceShot: Snails on Speed

Talk about an oxymoron: A snail on speed. No, researchers weren't trying to make the gastropods slide faster—they were trying to improve their memories. When the great pond snail (Lymnaea stagnalis) wades into water low in oxygen, it extends a special breathing tube to the surface. A team of researchers trained snails not to do this by repeatedly poking at their breathing tubes when the snails tried to extend them. Two days later, the team again placed the snails in low-oxygen water. The snails trained in normal water had already forgotten their training, and they extended their breathing tubes twice as often as snails trained in methamphetamine-laced water, the researchers report tomorrow in The Journal of Experimental Biology. The results suggest that meth improves memory, something that has been previously observed in creatures with large, complex brains like rats and humans. But since the snails store their memories in a simple, three-neuron network, the team hopes that studying the meth effect in these gastropods will help pinpoint how the drug's memory magnification powers work.

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