RNA Editing Shows How Smart Cephalopods Are

In Science
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Cephalopods, which include, octopus, squid, and cuttlefish, are well-known for their intelligence. These creatures can complete complex tasks as well as solve complex mechanical problems. But why are these animals so smart? According to , a new study suggests cephalopods are unusually intelligent because of their ability to perform major RNA editing, particularly in the protein codes found in their neurons.

Octopuses in particular are famous for their Houdini-like escapes from aquariums, like Inky, the octopus who busted out of a tank in New Zealand’s National Aquarium last April and found his way back to the freedom of the Pacific ocean through a drain pipe. They are also playful animals, who can remember and recognize people. The intelligence these animals demonstrate is rare among their fellow mollusks, such as clams and oysters.

RNA editing may explain intelligence of cephalopods

What this means is that octopus, squid and cuttlefish do not strictly follow the genetic instructions encrypted in their DNA. Instead, the sometimes “edit” their RNA by replacing the molecule adenosine with inosine. In the study, scientists discovered octopuses use RNA editing to help them quickly adapt to change in temperature; these edits are also present in most squid. The researchers hoped to discover how common RNA editing in cephalopods and what effects this remarkable editing ability have had on their genome.

In the , Eli Eisenberg, an expert on RNA editing from Tel Aviv University and a co-author on the study, said that most scienitists formerly believed that editing sites “are being ‘expelled’ from the coding part of RNA molecules.” However, the researchers discovered the cephalopods use the edited RNA to create new proteins. Because of this, one octopus gene can produce many different kinds of protein from the same DNA. Eisenberg mentioned this process expands the protein repertoire at the animal’s disposal.

The researchers involved in the study have concluded that extensive RNA editing has major evolutionary consequences. In addition, since most of the done by cephalopods are coded for important neural proteins, the scientists wonder whether this process contributes to the noted intelligence of these creatures. For example, octopuses are skilled hunters, but they also know when to hide in small places from predators or which color to turn in which situation.

Joshua Rosenthal, cephalopod neurobiologist at Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA, said that RNA editing is “elegant system to add flexibility to your genetic information.” However, he went on to say it is difficult to understand how and why it is used, phys.org reported.

At the time, the researchers are working to develop an octopus animal model to explore whether RNA editing plays a vital role in cephalopod behavior which they hope will answer some of these questions.

By Rebeccah Dean

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