By Edythe McNamee and Jacque Wilson, CNN
Neuroscientists love Aplysia. They are a type of sea slug that grows to be about a foot long. With only 20,000 nerve cells - compared with about 100 billion found in the human brain - Aplysia are the perfect lab animals for brain researchers hoping to isolate a crucial connection.
Plus, "they're just attractive to look at," says Dr. Eric Kandel, a biochemistry and biophysics professor at Columbia University.
Kandel won the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work with Aplysia - or more specifically, for his work on the biological mechanisms of memory storage.
For decades, Kandel has studied how we create short-term and long-term memories at the molecular level. His work has shown what genes are changed during the learning process, how these genes are altered and how the changes contribute to the growth of new connections in the brain.
CNN spoke with Kandel about his research and why he's fascinated by the human brain. The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity: