Scientists Use CRISPR to Delete Fearful Memories in Rats

The practice could be used to treat memory-related disorders such as PTSD and drug addiction.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Ah, Memories! They can be some of our best assets or our most painful tormentors. Good memories give us a sensation of warmth and hope for better times, but bad memories can cause serious trauma.

But what if you could delete all unpleasant memories? Would you take that option, or do you believe that even the bad memories are part of who you are? Well, the possibility to remove bad memories is becoming all-the-more plausible, and it could soon become a reality.


Deleting memories

Researchers at Peking University have used CRISPR gene editing to 'delete' memories from rats. More specifically, they removed fearful memories from their test subjects.

Yi Ming, one of the paper’s co-authors, told that the new technique could be used to treat pathological memories and memory-related conditions such as PTSD, drug addiction, chronic pain, and chronic stress. Ming acknowledged that negative memories could be essential for survival, but when too much focus is given to them, they cause psychological and physical disorders.

A tricky practice

The study was published in Science Advances and leads to some tricky ethical questions. In many ways, our memories shape us. Therefore losing some of them, even the painful ones, could change us fundamentally.

Another question is how the researchers would decide which memories to delete and which to keep. The process does not make clear how those memories are targeted. Could the researchers really get the right memory to cut, or might they remove a subject of another memory, perhaps a desired one?

Although at first glance, the practice does seem to have some merit, particularly in treating psychological disorders, it is one that has to be undertaken with caution.

The study does not clarify how memories are targeted and what safety measures are taken to ensure that memories essential to one's survival and identity are not accidentally accessed and deleted. This indicates that much work still needs to be done before the CRISPR treatment becomes a viable practice.

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