Despite claims that octopuses are "alien," the genetic sequence mapped out by scientists reveals some truly amazing facts about the cephalopod's nervous system.
Scientists have finally sequenced the genome of a cephalopod for the first time. According to a report from Discovery News, the genome of the California two-spot octopus reveals how the animal uses its large brain to navigate its environment and change the color of its skin to blend in.
According to head researcher Caroline Albertin, a graduate student at the University of Chicago, “Having the genome represents having a tool kit that the animal draws on as it builds [a] really remarkable body and develops all these, really, very cool, behaviors.”
One of the reasons octopuses’ brains interest scientists is because of their unique nervous system. The central brain encircles the esophagus, which is typical for most invertebrates, but neurons in each of its eight arms work independently. Additionally, its large optic lobes help it create a sharp picture of the creature’s surroundings.
Scientists sequenced the genome of the California two-spot octopus, a strange species that produces clear eggs that hatch into almost fully intelligent juveniles. Both young and adult octopuses can “walk” across the seafloor using their tentacles as feelers. They don’t turn their heads when they switch direction – their arms can sense where they’re going and they direct the body accordingly.
Researchers were stunned to discover the similarities between the bizarre octopuses’ genome and that of more basic mollusks, like clams and snails. The genes that stood out were the ones that were connected to the development of the octopuses’ complex nervous systems.
The team hopes to continue sorting through the genetic data collected in the study, and will continue studying to learn more about how these bizarre, yet intelligent animals operate in their natural habitat.