Scientists Are Working on 'Men in Black'-Style Memory Wiping Technology

No promise that it will only be used by galaxy defenders
Columbia Pictures

There’s a long history of science fiction devices making their way into the real world — everyone and their cousin having pointed out that tablet computers are essentially what Star Trek characters were using in the early ‘90s — but now scientists have apparently decided to use their power for evil and create one of sci-fi’s most worrying weapons: the neuralyzer from the Men in Black movies.

You remember the neuralyzer, don’t you? Or perhaps you don’t — it is, after all, the device that allowed Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones to wipe characters’ memories with just a flash of light. Now, Quartz is reporting that researchers at the UC Davis Center for Neuroscience and Department of Psychology have managed to erase specific memories from mice using beams of light. Yes, really.

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In a series of tests presented in a paper by Brian Wiltgen and Kazumasa Tanaka from UC Davis, mice were genetically modified so that their nerve cells would glow when activated. Those mice then found themselves having memory cells in their hippocampus firstly mapped when a specific learned response to an event — being shocked when placed in a cage — was recalled, and then zapped with a beam of light aimed directly at those specific cells.

The result? The mice no longer appeared to remember that they were about to be shocked when they approached the cage, proving that real life science can be both cruel and just a little terrifying.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we’re just weeks away from a real-life working neuralyzer for both movie stars and extra-terrestrial authorities to use on unsuspecting bystanders — for one thing, most of us haven’t been genetically modified to easily identify when specific cells in our hippocampus are active, to the best of our knowledge. It does, however, mean that at least one thing in Men in Black is closer to reality than most people suspected. Clearly, the revelation that Johnny Knoxville is actually an alien has to be next.

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