In his groundbreaking work, Xu Liu investigated how to activate and deactivate specific memories in mice.

Why you should listen

During his PhD, Xu Liu studied the mechanisms of learning and memory, using fruit flies as a model system. By changing the expression of certain genes in the fly brain, he generated smart flies that can learn many times faster than their peers. Using live imaging, he also detected learning-induced changes in the brain cells and observed memory formation inside the brain with light.

After graduation, he moved to MIT and joined Dr. Susumu Tonegawa's lab as a postdoctoral associate. He continued his pursuit of memory with light there. Instead of just watching memory formation, he developed a system in mice where one can not only identify and label cells in the brain for a particular memory, but also turn these cells on and off with light to activate this memory at will. This work was published in Science and has been covered by the media worldwide. Liu passed away in February 2015.

Xu Liu’s TED talk

More news and ideas from Xu Liu


Think you’ve got a terrible memory? You don’t know the half of it

February 19, 2014

Last year, MIT neuroscientists Xu Liu and Steve Ramirez manipulated the memory of a mouse. In a fascinating and mildly troubling breakthrough caused by a laser and the protein channelrhodopsin, they “activated” fear memories in a mouse. The impetus, says Ramirez, was the awful feeling of a break-up, the desire, Eternal Sunshine-style, to erase the […]

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