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Octopus Have Been Found to have Unique Genes

Aug 20, 2015 12:27 PM EDT
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Genome sequencing of an octopus species recently revealed unique and seemingly extraterrestrial capabilities. 

This genome analysis of the California two-spot octopus, Octopus bimaculoides, was conducted by a team of researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST), the University of Chicago, and the University of California, Berkeley, and recently published in the journal, Nature. Led by researchers in the Molecular Genetics Unit at OIST, this study marks the first cephalopod to be decoded. 

Over three hundred million years ago, cephalopods emerged as predators of the ocean. "They were the first intelligent beings on the planet," Nobel Laureate Dr. Sydney Brenner, founding President and Distinguished Professor of OIST, said in a statement.

This is partly because they have unique brains. According to the release, cephalopod brains are elaborations of the basic invertebrate brain, with a completely different organization system than what is found in humans and other vertebrates.

The octopus genome encodes several large gene families, which may explain the animal's complex gray matter. Additionally, hundreds of other genes that are common in cephalopods, but unknown in other animals, were found. This questions our understanding of genomic reorganization through evolution, the release noted.

In another weird turn, researchers found that roughly half of the octopus genome was composed of transposons--mobile elements that replicate and move around in the chain, either disrupting or enhancing gene expression. Researchers found many active transposons in the octopus' nervous system, which they believe caused the disruption of chromosomes that are otherwise grouped together in other animals, the release said.

"The octopus appears so utterly different from all other animals, even ones it's related to, that the British zoologist Martin Wells famously called it an alien. In that sense, you could say our paper describes the first sequenced genome from an alien," Clifton Ragsdale, Associate Professor of Neurobiology and leader of the team that worked on the octopus at the University of Chicago, said in a statement.

While further research needs to be conducted, if similarities are found to our vertebrate brains and formation, it could greatly affect scientific perspectives on the development of life.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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