Scientists map octopus genome and the evolution of cephalopod

Octopuses are often referred to as brainiacs. They are capable of unscrewing themselves out of sealed jars and do extraordinary things like using coconut shells for building mobile homes. So, it’s obvious that genome sequencing of these eight-legged rock starts will reveal something very special.

Caroline Albertin, the leader of the team of researchers that sequenced the genome of octopus, said that finding out how bodies and brains of octopuses evolved marks the very first step towards understanding these unique animals differently. Albertin is a graduate student at the University of Chicago.

Albertin, who is currently studying the evolution of animal development, added that having the genome is like having a tool kit, which the animals in question draw on when building their amazing body and really awesome behaviors.

Octopuses showcase such clever behaviors primarily due to their weird nervous system; having three hearts is also believed to be partially responsible.

Prof. Daniel Rokhsar of the University of California in Berkeley, who happens to be the study’s coauthor, said that the structure of octopus’ nervous system is completely different from that of ours.

The animal’s central brain surrounds its esophagus, a typical feature of invertebrates. Also, the animal also possesses groups of neurons in its arms, which can function relatively autonomously. Plus, there are optic lobes that give octopus the ability of seeing.

Prof. Rokhsar, who teaches genetics and genomics at the University, added that genome sequencing provided the researchers with an opportunity of understanding what exactly can be learnt about octopus’ unique morphology and brain.

The researchers used advanced technology to assemble and publish the first ever genome of a cephalopod. For those who don’t know: cephalopod is an animal group that includes creatures such as cuttlefish, squid, and octopuses.

During this new study, researchers sequenced the genome of Octopus bimaculoides or the California two-spot octopus. It’s a relatively big and hearty octopus but can live in an indoor aquarium comfortably. Octopus bimaculoides is known for producing attractive, transparent eggs. The babies hatched from these eggs start behaving like octopuses immediately.

Surprisingly, the researchers found that the genome of this octopus species looks significantly like the genome of other mollusks (which include snails and clams). However, they also discovered many stark differences between the octopus’ genomes and the genome of other known invertebrates. They even managed to identify hundreds of unique cephalopod genes expressing specialized characteristics of Octopus bimaculoides.

The entire study was published in the journal Nature on August 12.


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