Scientists set free the mind, might still buy flowers for Algernon

By Abhinav Lal Published Date
20 - Sep - 2010
| Last Updated
20 - Sep - 2010
Scientists set free the mind, might still buy flowers for Algerno...

It seems Flowers for Algernon was more than just a masterpiece realizing the majestic suffering inherent in the rise and fall of Mr. Gordon’s intelligence. Instead, it might very well have paved the way for research that makes Algernon’s scurrying siblings smarter.

Scientists at Emory University have found that when they delete the RSGS14 gene in mice, the mysterious CA2 region of their hippocampus gets activated. The mice then display a remarkable improvement in memory and learning ability by better remembering objects and navigating mazes. The gene is also found in humans.

Though Emory University’s Dr. Hepler has laughingly dubbed the RSG14 as the Homer Simpson Gene, everyone is rather unsure as to its purpose. This is no small part due to the fact that while the hippocampus’ function as the seat of learning and memory formation is well documented, the CA2 region still remains a puzzle. We know that the loss of certain types of CA2 neurons is indicative of schizophrenia, and that another gene when disabled in the region leads to altered social behaviours.  

With the deletion of the RSG14 gene however, the CA2 region remarkably shows signs of "robust long term potentiation", which allows for stronger neural connections to be built with electrical stimulation. So far, no adverse effects have been detected on the health of the mice by the deletion of the CA2 disabling gene, though it is still too early to tell. Misfiring neurons or a seriously out of whack neuro-chemical balance could be some of the many foreseeable problems.

For now, scientists have used a gene targetting method to delete the gene, one that is not likely to see the light of human trials as it involves homologous recombination at the embryonic stage. As Dr. Hepler puts it though, the "pipe dream is that maybe you could find a compound that inhibits RGS14 or shuts it down. Then, perhaps, you could enhance cognition."

So if you finally feel vindicated that you knew something was holding you back from success, also ask yourself why the gene is present or active in us in the first place…Was it advantageous, or merely not seriously disadvantageous? Analogously, maybe the cores were locked for a reason? Will we require additional cooling? It is all certainly worth the effort to investigate, though not a very linear path to world peace.

Abhinav LalAbhinav Lal