101 Theory Drive: A Neuroscientist's Quest for Memory
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An obsessive scientist and his eclectic team of researchers race to discover one of the hidden treasures of neuroscience—the physical makeup of memory—and in the process pursue a pharmaceutical wonder drug.
Gary Lynch is the real thing, the epitome of the rebel scientist: malnourished, contentious, inspiring, explosive, remarkably ambitious, and consistently brilliant. He is one of the foremost figures of contemporary neuroscience, and his decades-long quest to understand the inner workings of the brain’s memory machine has begun to pay off.
Award-winning journalist Terry McDermott spent nearly two years observing Lynch at work and now gives us a fascinating and dramatic account of daily life in his lab—the highs and lows, the drudgery and eureka moments, the agonizing failures. He provides detailed, lucid explanations of the cutting-edge science that enabled Lynch to reveal the inner workings of the molecular machine that manufactures memory. After establishing the building blocks, Lynch then set his sights on uncovering the complicated structure of memory as it is stored across many neurons. Adding practical significance to his groundbreaking work, Lynch discovered a class of drugs that could fix the memory machine when it breaks, drugs that would enhance brain function during the memory process and that hold out the possibility of cures for a wide range of neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Here is an essential story of science, scientists, and scientific achievement—galvanizing in the telling and thrilling in its far-reaching implications.
it. I used to give a speech to the introductory biology students: "Here's the thing. You kids understand something. What you get here is maybe not everything you would have at some other place, but if you work with us, there will be no better education on this fucking planet. So you little sonsabitches understand that. If you work here, there will be no better education on this planet. We have the faculty here that will take you into their laboratories, they will let you be performing at the
across the globe, more than a dozen places proudly proclaim themselves home to the pursuit of theoretical physics. But as Lynch notes, it is no accident that there is "no Institute for Neuroscience Theory." His protestations aside, he was almost constantly struggling for higher explanations, to make things cohere, to fit data into what the analytical philosopher Willard V. O. Quine called the web of science. In any event, insofar as the street was concerned, Lynch said, "I would have called it
years. The Cretaceous was—or had been, until that point—the age of dinosaurs, who had had the run of the planet for at least 100 million years. The dinosaurs had evolved as mainly diurnal creatures, meaning they were active during the day and becalmed at night. Whether cause or effect it's impossible to say, but dinosaurs were extremely reliant on vision. Their sense of smell was not well developed. Said Lynch: "The big meteor comes, and guess what? It's dark and cold; they're dependent on
the rats already trained by Palmer, Lynch anticipated getting proof of learning-induced LTP-type changes within days, a week at most. Ahab would have known better. First, the confocal microscope broke. Rex found another, underused scope across campus, so they had to hustle back and forth with their tissue slides every day, or night. Between the broken scope and other delays, summer passed with the experiments still undone. Lynch was so irate that he considered (but ultimately resisted) violating
result—even the best of them—is hard to believe. When he and the lab had finally run enough iterations of the behavior experiment that there was no reasonable way to deny the results, Lynch wrote a paper essentially summarizing thirty years of work. It wasn't stated as an overarching recapitulation, but the title alone made the ambition clear: "Evidence That Long-term Potentiation Occurs Within Individual Hippocampal Synapses During Learning." Trying to determine whether this was in fact