Octopuses have found an incredible way to protect the most delicate features of their nervous system against radical changes in temperature.
When conditions fluctuate, they can rapidly recode key proteins in their nerve cells, ensuring critical neurological activities keep working when temperatures drop dramatically.
How do they do that? Displaying a rare superpower: they edit their RNA on the fly, an ability found in some species of octopus, squid, and cuttlefish.
It’s an unusual strategy, but it appears to be effective, and scientists believe it can be widely adopted across the cephalopod world.
“We generally think of our genetic information as fixed, but the environment can influence how you code for proteins, and in cephalopods this happens on a large scale,” says marine biologist Joshua Rosenthal of the University of California’s Marine Biological Laboratory . Chicago, lead author of new research.
“RNA recoding gives organisms the option to express a diverse variety of proteins when and where they choose. In cephalopods, most of the recoding is for proteins that are really important for nervous system function, so So the natural question is, are they using this to acclimate to changes in their physical environment?
In most organisms this is fairly straightforward; once the template is issued, no further changes to the RNA occur. In cephalopods, however, things are a bit different.
Some scientists thought it might be why cephalopods are so strangely and fascinatingly intelligent, but the reason has eluded and baffled scientists.