UFO abductees want to get their memories back, and so do some abuse victims. Older people are concerned that their memories are getting weak. However, some people have the opposite problem: memories that are so traumatic, they desperately want to get rid of them. Now scientists think they’ve learned how to do this.

Anna Salleh writes in ABC Science Online that Israeli researcher Mark Eisenberg is trying to develop a drug that can pinpoint?and erase?specific memories. Every memory undergoes a process called “consolidation” immediately after it’s formed. It was previously thought that the only opportunity for erasing a memory was during a small window of time of about an hour or two after the memory is acquired, before it’s consolidated. Many victims of traumatic events have no memory of them because the catastrophe prevents consolidation of the memory.

Eisenberg has discovered that the memory-erasing “window” opens up every time a memory is recalled, giving a new opportunity to erase it?if we only knew how. Some old memories are erasable, but others are not, and Eisenberg wants to learn how to tell them apart.

Memories are associated with one another. Certain foods bring up memories of taste, which lead to specific memories of people or events. When we next taste the food or see the person, all of the associated memories are called up. But there is still one “dominant” memory that tells us how to react?whether to eat the food or be glad to see the person. Eisenberg found that it’s these “dominant” memories that can be erased.

Eisenberg works in Israel, where recent suicide bombings have given people a lot of traumatic memories they would like to get rid of. It might help if they were to learn the lost secret of death. Learn all about it on this week’s Dreamland.

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