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Snails on crystal meth: The facts

Profs spend days poking hopped-up molluscs with sticks

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In a development whose importance it would be difficult to exaggerate, scientists have produced research answering one of the great questions facing humanity in the 21st century: what happens if you get snails hopped up on crystal meth and poke them with sticks?

The drug-pushing scientists in question are Barbara Sorg of Washington State Uni and Ken Lukowiak of the University of Calgary. The mollusc they chose for their experiments was the pond snail Lymnaea stagnalis.

The two snail savants placed their slimy drug-slaves into pond water which they had spiked with methamphetamine, described as "a highly addictive drug that seduces victims by increasing self-esteem and sexual pleasure, and inducing euphoria".

Having got their slippery subjects well addled on this delightful but damaging chemical treat, Sorg and Lukowiak then tested their memories by means of varying the amount of oxygen in the pondwater and poking them with sticks.

Perhaps we should explain. Low oxygen levels often occur in normal outdoor ponds not laced with illegal narcotics, and in this case the local L stagnalis will extend their "pneumostomes" (breathing tubes) above the surface to get more live-giving oxy.

However, it is possible to train them not to do this by sitting next to the pond or lab tank and poking any suffocating snail which dares to wave its squelchy snorkels. This is actually a standard, widely-used method among biologists for testing snails' intellectual powers.

After a lengthy and painstaking period of sitting in the lab poking snails immersed in various different mixtures of pondwater and drugs, Lukowiak and Sorg report that in fact methamphetamine makes snails' memories much better. According to a statement issued on their behalf:

Memories formed under the influence of meth seem to be harder to forget, possibly because the drug disrupts the mechanisms for forgetting, and could help us to understand how amphetamines enhance memory in humans.

The research is to be published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. Sorg and Lukowiak have previously carried out similar studies involving snails on cocaine. ®

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