The “Alien” Octopus

Scientists have recently mapped the genetic code of an octopus, Octopus bimaculoides. The study found that the common octopus has over 33,000 protein coding genes (we mere humans only have 20,000 protein coding genes). The study also noted octopuses as having a DNA that is highly rearranged.

Casper octopus
This small, ghostly-white octopus was found in the deep sea at a depth of 2.5 miles off Hawaii and has been likened to the beloved cartoon character, Casper

US researcher Dr Clifton Ragsdale, University of Chicago stated, “The octopus appears to be utterly different from all other animals, even from other molluscs with its eight prehensile arms, its large brain and its clever problem-solving abilities.”

Of the gene groups mapped, octopuses were found to have 168 of  the protocadherins genes which regulate the development of neurons and the short-range interactions between them. That’s more than twice as many as mammals. Maybe just one explanation to their large brain and the “organ’s even-stranger anatomy”.

Two-thirds of the octupus’s half a billion neurones spill out from its head through its arms, without needing long-range fibres such as those in vertebrate spinal cords.

The ability of their “arms” to act independently, even when seperated from the rest of the body has made them an interesting study for neuobiologists and roboticists to make soft, flexible robots.

“The late British zoologist Martin Wells said the Octopus is an alien. In this sense, then, our paper describes the first sequenced genome from an alien,” Dr Clifton Ragsdale.

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