Berger and Sam Deadwyler at Wake Forest University are doing experiments in which they are actually inserting memories into the brains of rats by stimulating certain parts of the hippocampus with electrical signals.
"What we can see is there are particular patterns and activity in space and time that are specific to the object," Berger said. "If an animal has to remember a Red Bull can instead of a can of Coke, there's a particular space-time activity that is different. We've been able to find for the first time these memory patterns."
Berger said they have also been able to disable the hippocampus, in effect blocking the memory, and then electronically stimulating certain areas to create a "new" memory.
"We've already shown that the strategy will work in monkeys and in rats," he said. "I do think we can do this in humans."
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ed Boyden leads the Synthetic Neurobiology Group, which is building new tools to explore the brain.
In recent year, Boyden and his colleagues have found a protein in algae that is able to convert light into electricity. When the protein, called channelrhodopsin, is introduced into certain neurons, it allows them to be triggered by light. The patterns can they be translated into electrical impulses and then mapped – resulting in a computer code of a memory.