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Cephalopods May Be Smart Because They Can Change Their RNA

Photo from Pixabay

Despite what cartoons may show, octopuses and other cephalopods are some of the smartest creatures on the planet. Scientists offer an explanation as to why – these sea animals have the ability to rewrite RNA.

There are many stories detailing just how intelligent cephalopods can be. In 2016, Inky the octopus managed to escape from the New Zealand National Aquarium by breaking out of its enclosure, walking across the floor and down a drainpipe to open water. Workers found the wet trail after Inky had gone, Tech Times reports.

Ursula, an octopus at the Living Coasts zoo and aquarium in the United Kingdom, can solve puzzles in seconds. These creatures can even develop their own personalities and recognize faces.

Now, researchers from Tel Aviv University who have been studying octopuses and other cephalopods may have an answer as to why the animals are so smart – cephalopods can edit their own genes. Instead of relying on their DNA mutations to adapt, octopuses, cuttlefish and squids make changes to their RNA. RNA is the genetic messenger that carries out what the DNA says.

These changes occur in the cephalopods’ brains, including a revision that lets their neurons work in cold environments.

According to the researchers,

Editing is enriched in the nervous system, affecting molecules pertinent for excitability and neuronal morphology. The genomic sequence flanking editing sites is highly conserved, suggesting that the process confers a selective advantage.

More evidence is needed to support this association, however. The same researchers admit that if the idea proves to be correct, this means that the ability to alter RNA is an important part of how intelligent a species can be.

Eli Eisenberg, one of the researchers, says, “Of course, at this point it’s just an enticing idea to think about, and we would need much more evidence to say anything definitive in this direction.”

The study was published in the journal Cell.


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