Octopus and Squid Genome Studies Reveal How Cephalopods’ Unique Traits Evolved

Squid, octopus, and cuttlefish--even to scientists who study them--are wonderfully weird creatures. Known as the soft-bodied or coleoid cephalopods, they have the largest nervous system of any invertebrate, complex behaviors such as instantaneous camouflage, arms studded with dexterous suckers, and other evolutionarily unique traits. Now, scientists have dug into the cephalopod genome to understand how these unusual animals came to be. Along the way, the researchers discovered cephalopod genomes are as weird as the animals are. Scientists from the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts; the University of Vienna; the University of Chicago; the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology; and the University of California, Berkeley, reported their findings in two new studies in Nature Communications.  “Large and elaborate brains have evolved a couple of times,” said co-lead author Caroline Albertin, PhD, Hibbitt Fellow at the MBL. “One famous example is the vertebrates. Another is the soft-bodied cephalopods, which serve as a separate example for how a large and complicated nervous system can be put together. By understanding the cephalopod genome, we can gain insight into the genes that are important in setting up the nervous system, as well as into neuronal function.”

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