Octopuses are fascinating aquatic animals. Apart from being eccentric for their bodily structure, they are also considered to be one of the most intelligent creatures on this planet. A new study has found a set of genetics in the cephalopods that might explain the reason why they are so smart.
The study was a collaborative effort between researchers from Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati (SISSA), Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, and Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia.
In a research paper published in the Journal BMC Biology, scientists have mentioned the existence of what is called “jumping genes” or transposons, which are found in two species of octopus – Octopus vulgaris and Octopus bimaculoides. Interestingly, these transposons make up 45 percent of the human genome and are found in the most important part of the human brain.
Transposons are short sequences of DNA that have the ability to copy-paste or cut-paste in one’s genome. Most of the transposons, in humans, are inactive. This is due to evolutionary mutations over generations or are blocked by cellular defence mechanisms. But, one type of these jumping genes was found to be still active in the hippocampus, the neural centre responsible for learning and storing memories.
These are called LINE (Long Interspersed Nuclear Elements). Still potentially active, these genes are finely regulated in the human brain. A similar genome sequence was found in cephalopods. Their brains have elements that mimic the LINE found in humans.
“The discovery of an elements of the LINE family, active in the brain of the two octopus’ species, is very significant because it adds support to the idea that these elements have a specific function that goes beyond copy-and-paste,” said Remo Sanges, Director, SISSA, in a statement.
Giovanna Ponte from the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, who is the coordinator of the study, said, “I literally jumped on the chair when, under the microscope, I saw a very strong signal of activity of this element in the vertical love, the structure of the brain which, in the octopus, is the seat of learning and cognitive abilities.”
According to the researchers, this is a classic example of convergent evolution where the same molecular process develops in two genetically distinct species, in this case, humans and Octopus. The study paves way for further research into the evolution of intelligence.