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К 90-летию со дня рождения основателя и бессменного редактора Журнала Дрессировщика Червей, профессора биопсихологии Мичиганского университета в Энн-Арборе Джеймса Вернона Макконнелла (♂1925 †1990) мы подготовили ряд публикаций о нем и о его детище - Журнале Дрессировщика Червей.

Первая из них была опубликована в журнале The Sciences Нью-Йоркской Академии наук в 1966 г. В online статья опубликована Wiley Online Library 31 Jul 13.

Oct 15

90-летию со дня рождения Джеймса Вернона Макконнелла посвящается.
Редакция ТЧК


In November, 1959, a curious hectographed journal made its first appearance on the American scientific scene. The first page bore on a heraldic device, a two-headed planarian surmounting a Latin legend that read: Ignotum per Ignotus: The journal is published irregularly, probably only when there is enough copy to fill it, under the leadership of Dr. James V. McConnell, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. The publication carried a strange name, The Worm Runner's Digest, an informal journal of comparative psychology.

The infamy of the Digest grew rapidly; greater numbers of interested scientists, educated non-scientists, readers with welldeveloped funny bones, psychologists, physicians, physicists, began calling for copies. It was an odd schizophrenic blend of humor and scientific investigation. This quality has been retained; today, The Worm Runner's Digest is published in upside - down - front - to - back - tofront fashion. The first half carries sober, sane planarian research. But, turning the book over and reading from the back forward, are the inebriated, insane, delightful spoofs on science and anything else under the sun - usually through the jaundiced eye of a worm runner.

There is, according to Editor McConnell, writing in an anthology of satirical pieces from the Digest, a jargon among psychologists. In this, by now well known, jargon, a psychologist working with rats is a rat runner, one who works with bugs is a bug runner, and, it can be assumed, one who works with caterpillars would be a caterpillar runner. Therefore, because of the interest at the Planarian Research Group of the Mental Health Research Institute at the University of Michigan, the name was obvious: The Worm Runner's Digest was born.

Work with flatworms has led worm runners to a particular worldoutlook, as well as particular personality traits, which may be manifested in various ways. For instance, with a mixture of rue and distaste, Dr. McConnell writes that

today, Science stands fair to join Religion, Motherhood and the Flag as a domain so sacrosanct and so sanctomonious, that leg-pulling isn't allowed, levity is forbidden, and smiling is scowled at.

But, because tradition and over-weening sobriety are two very real enemies of the creative mind, no one who plays with worms for a living, as he and his students and co-workers do,

could survive the jibes of his colleagues unless armored by a penetrating insight into the cosmic comicness of this whole affair called science.

The flatworm used in the research group's work have a disconcertingly humanoid, cross-eyed appearance, and are about half an inch in length when fully grown.

The fascination of these animals derives from the fact that they are the lowest creatures in the evolutionary hierarchy who possess a brain of sorts and a true central nervous system, with bilateral symmetry, but at the same time the highest ranking among organisms which reproduce by fission
Arthur Koestler, A New Look at The Mind, London Observer, April 30, 1965.

They may drop their tails at one season; the head section grows a new tail, the old tail grows a new head. They can be sliced into as many as six segments, each of which will regenerate into complete planarians.

But, planarians are multi-talented. Hermaphrodites, they function as males in their youth, but in maturity decide they will propagate the race as females, and lay eggs.

At one stage in its life-cycle, usually during the mating season, the planarian becomes a cannibal and devours everything it can grab, including its own discarded tail, which has been in the process of growing a new head. The name of the journal, The Worm Runner's Digest, seems an appropriate pun in the light of both natural cannibalism and the cannibalism experiments on transfer of learning.

There have been through the years many facets to the Digest. In Vol. I, No.1, the November, 1959 issue, is a sober and scientific article on the apparatus needed to house, transport, and experiment with planarians. And there is another treatise on the experimental procedures to be followed in working with planarians; this article includes a complete data sheet for recording experimental results. Another perfectly straightforward paper appears, The Feeding and Care of Planaria. Somehow, everything is not as cut and dried as it at first seems. The paper, written by Margaret Clay of the Planarian Research Group, concludes:

If you follow these directions and everything dies, try again, using your own common sense variations. It took Mother Nature thousands of years to really get living things growing successfully, you know, and even with her help, it may take you a few weeks to catch on.

Not all the articles concern worm-running. In another issue, Vol. VII, No.1, is a profound paper, written by Lawrence A. Newberry of Purdue University. Mr. Newberry addresses himself to the problems of the effect of background noise on the detection of the cork-popping effect by popped-cork retrievers. Notwithstanding his attempt, Mr. Newberry makes only a single major contribution to the literature of science in an asterisked footnote on the first page of the paper.

*Whenever you do not wish to show the extent of your ignorance on a particular subject, always say that it is beyond the scope of your paper. It works.

Learned theses analyze in detail research problems of particular investigators. One particularly valuable report was in a paper presented by four young people, Joan M. Klein, K. Suzanne Lathrop, Elizabeth J. Lominska, and Lesley E. Seaman. This study deals with the abstruse problem: The Effect of a Pre-Frontal Lobotomy on the Tsetse Fly. The researchers submitted that they had lobotomized some 3000 Congolese red-eyed thyroidectomized tsetse flies, divided into groups of 1500 males and 1500 females. Great care was taken to supply the reader with all pertinent information:

A small scalpel, a wire, and a needle and thread were used in performing the prefrontal lobotomy. A small piece of gauze served as the dressing for the incision.

In addition, the young scientists prepared graphs showing the behavior of the flies before and after lobotomy and thyroidectomy. The investigation, they reported, was to determine the effects of lobotomy on the flies' reproductive behavior.

The work performed by the Planarian Research Group, and its results published in the Digest, as well as work by other planarian investigators across the country, seems to have merit - although there is no doubt it has engendered a fair amount of hostile criticism.

Basically, McConnell and others have established that there is some rudimentary form of learning, or conditioning, in planarians. They are trained by flashing strong lights at them, followed immediately by an electric shock. In the untrained animal the light causes no reaction, but the shock produces a strong longitudinal contraction. After a number of repetitions, the worm learns that the light is a signal heralding the shock, and contracts when the light is turned on. Other supportive work on learning, involving simple T-squares, as well as additional experiments of various kinds, has also been published.

But what is most startling about their research is that learning can be transferred from one flatworm to another. In a series of wellcontrolled experiments planarians were trained to perform certain tasks, then ground up and fed to untrained, or naive, worms. The naive planarians were then subjected to training procedures, and learned, or were conditioned, significantly more quickly than naive worms fed untrained victims. This suggests, McConnell believes, that there is a transfer of learning when a naive planarian has cannibalized a trained one. In addition, he points out in the Annual Review of Physiology, Vol. 28, 1966, there is a similar enhancement of learning when ribonucleic acid extracted from trained planarians is injected into naive ones.

These studies suggest that the engram may be primarily biochemical in nature, a suggestion that runs counter to most neurologically oriented learning theories.

Finally, the wormrunners have also shown that planarians which have been severed head from tail retain learning in both regenerated sections of the new individuals.

McConnell suggests these results indicate that RNA acts not only as part of the biochemical storage mechanism in most organisms, but as the transfer agent as well. In one experiment, classically conditioned animals were severed, allowed to regenerate in pond water, while others regenerated in a weak solution of ribonuclease, an enzyme that hydrolyzes RNA.

All the pond water regenerates, as well as the heads that regenerated in the RNase solution, demonstrated the expected retention; the RNase tail regenerates, however, showed complete 'forgetting' of prior learning, although they could be thereafter conditioned in approximately the same number of trials as could totally naive animals.

And, Fried and Horowitz, writing in the Digest, have more recently shown that RNase injected directly into the trained planarians erases prior training, while saline injections have no effect.

For those interested in following this research in the Digest, a further note is in order: Now that the publication is both forward and backward, the title has partially changed. It is still called, on the humorous side, The Worm Runner's Digest. However, the editors, having bowed to the exigencies of scientific journal publishing and probably to the demands of potential contributors, have changed the sober halfs title to The Journal of Biological Psychology. It remains to be seen whether or not they will compromise with content in either half.

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