A new study conducted by researchers at Harvard University reveals the molecular mechanism that makes octopus taste its prey just by touching them with its tentacles. The first layer of cells in suction cups on an octopus’ tentacles has sensors which can detect those molecules that don’t dissolve well in water.
According to a Daily Mail report, there are chemotactile receptors in the sensors. The function of these receptors is to identify if the object that is being touched by the tentacle is a prey or not. There is a message carried to the nervous system of the octopus after touching the organism whether to strangle its prey or continue looking for it.
The receptors also recognise toxic preys and stop the octopus from consuming them. Marine organisms produce terpenoids — chemicals that can act as a defence for them. This is the chemical recognised by the chemotactile receptor.
There has been evidence to establish that the suction cups play a role in the octopus’ search for food, however, it is for the first time that the detailed mechanism has been studied by the researchers.
Talking about his study, author of the paper, Nicholas Bellono said that the finding is important because it shows that octopus can produce a range of signals to display complex behaviours. Lena van Giesen, another author of the study, believes that researchers can now study the signals which are important for the animals and also about how they encode those signals.
For the study, the researchers isolated and cloned receptors from octopus. It was then inserted into human line cells and frog eggs to study them in isolation. These cells were then exposed to extracts from octopus’ prey and other chemicals to which the receptors react. They were found to get activated only when poor-soluble materials reacted with the receptors.