Octopuses Do Something Really Strange to Their Genes

Apr 11, 2017

By Ed Yong

Octopuses have three hearts, parrot-like beaks, venomous bites, and eight semi-autonomous arms that can taste the world. They squirt ink, contort through the tiniest of spaces, and melt into the world by changing both color and texture. They are incredibly intelligent, capable of wielding tools, solving problems, and sabotaging equipment. As Sy Montgomery once wrote, “no sci-fi alien is so startlingly strange” as an octopus. But their disarming otherness doesn’t end with their bodies. Their genes are also really weird.

A team of scientists led by Joshua Rosenthal at the Marine Biological Laboratory and Eli Eisenberg at Tel Aviv University have shown that octopuses and their relatives—the cephalopods—practice a type of genetic alteration called RNA editing that’s very rare in the rest of the animal kingdom. They use it to fine-tune the information encoded by their genes without altering the genes themselves. And they do so extensively, to a far greater degree than any other animal group.

“They presented this work at a recent conference, and it was a big surprise to everyone,” says Kazuko Nishikura from the Wistar Institute. “I study RNA editing in mice and humans, where it’s very restricted. The situation is very different here. I wonder if it has to do with their extremely developed brains.”

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

One comment on “Octopuses Do Something Really Strange to Their Genes”

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.