A component of chocolate, wine and green tea can enhance memories -- in snails, at least.
A new study, released Wednesday in the Journal of Experimental Biology, showed that modest concentrations of the flavonoid epicatechin caused snails' memories to last longer and be harder to overwrite.
In nature, flavonoids are found in many species of plants, often adding color to plant skin by serving as pigments. They have long been studied as possible cancer fighters and cognitive enhancers because they have beneficial antioxidant effects on cells in a dish. But the concentrations tested in those studies were much higher than are generally possible to study in live animals. When researchers have studied flavonoids in animals, the results have been lackluster.
In the new study, researchers from the University of Calgary studied whether exposing snails to roughly the same amount of epicatechin humans regularly consume would enhance their memories. When the snails are in normal water, they breathe through their skin. But when the oxygen level in the water becomes low, the snails have a backup: They extend a breathing tube above the water level, like a built-in snorkel. Researchers have learned that they can actually teach the snails to keep this tube shut even in deoxygenated water by tapping it lightly.