Octopuses’ are some of the intelligent animals inhabiting our diverse planet. Their extensive neurological system is made up of 500 million neurons, similar to that of a dog. But unlike a dog where most of these neurons are located in their brain, over two-thirds of octopuses’ can be found in their arms and bodies.
This unique spread of neurons allows for an incredibly high level of intelligence, being capable of using tools, problem-solving, and extremely behaviourally adaptable. The animals are also masters of camouflage, having the ability to modify the color and texture of the skin.
A new international study has found something remarkable about the octopus brain, it has incredible similarities to our own. Research shows that both the human and octopus brains contain the same active transposons or “jumping genes.” These make up around 45 percent of the human genome and have the ability to cut and paste themselves many times throughout, shuffling or duplicating genetic material in their path.
Jumping genes are mostly harmless, however, if they by chance land in the right place this can shape the path of evolution of an organism. Previous studies have shown that it is likely these genes are what caused the size of the human brain to expand so rapidly and reshuffle our genetics in favor of intelligence. These genes are particularly active in the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
The story of octopus jumping genes seems to be similar, with genomic sequencing revealing a rich landscape of transposons. “I literally jumped on the chair when, under the microscope, I saw a very strong signal of activity of this element in the vertical lobe, the structure of the brain which in the octopus is the seat of learning and cognitive abilities, just like the hippocampus in humans,” tells Giovanna Ponte who worked on the project.
This discovery could help us understand the fascinating secrets of octopus intelligence. As humans and octopuses are evolutionarily distant, it also strengthens theories of the cause of cognitive intelligence. Gaining a deeper understanding of these mind-shaping mechanisms can give clues into the neurological conditions these jumping genes influence, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Source study: BMC Biology – Identification of LINE retrotransposons and long non-coding RNAs expressed in the octopus brain