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Octopuses Are So Badass That They Can Edit Their Own Genes

Octopuses are even smarter than we thought. Not only can they pull off unlikely feats of escape, but they can also edit their own genetic code.


Octopuses are even smarter than we thought.

 

Not only can they pull off unlikely feats of escape and apparently see the future, they can also edit their own genetic code.

 

In a paper published in the journal Cell earlier this month, a group of researchers reveals that squids, cuttlefish and octopuses all have the amazing ability to edit their RNA.

To put it simply, this means they can change the way their bodies work, allowing them to adapt to their surroundings without having to wait for generations worth of evolution to do the job.

To explain how this works, we have to go back to high-school biology, which we may or may not have doodled our way through.

 

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The Washington Post's Ben Guarino explains it like this:

If your DNA is a library of cookbooks, your RNA is a scribe that copies the recipes exactly. But in these gene-editing cephalopods, the RNA is more chef than scribe. As it transcribes recipes, it tweaks them, depending on how much garlic it wants to throw in, for example.

In real life, the dishes that result from these recipes are proteins. Sounds ... tasty?

 

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Here's an example of how this plays out in the world: One of the researchers who worked on the study, neurobiologist Joshua Rosenthal, found octopuses living in the Antarctic that have used their editing ability to keep their nerves working in their ice-cold climate.

Researchers can't say for sure yet whether this knack for self-improvement is what makes these cephalopods so smart in the first place. But they've found one interesting clue: Nautiluses, the cephalopods that look like freaky snails, can't edit their RNA like their relatives can, and they're also not known to be particularly smart.

 

We're now more sure than ever that octopuses are going to take over the world.

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Illustration by Fabio Manucci

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