The Atlantic

Octopuses Do Something Really Strange to Their Genes

It might be connected to their extraordinary intelligence.
Source: Jon Nazca / Reuters

Octopuses have three hearts, parrot-like beaks, venomous bites, and eight semi-autonomous arms that can taste the world. They squirt ink, contort through the tiniest of spaces, and melt into the world by changing both color and texture. They are incredibly intelligent, capable of wielding tools, solving problems, and sabotaging equipment. As Sy Montgomery once wrote, “no sci-fi alien is so startlingly strange” as an octopus. But their disarming otherness doesn’t end with their bodies. Their genes are also really weird.

A team of scientists led by Joshua Rosenthal at the Marine Biological Laboratory and Eli Eisenberg at Tel Aviv University have shown that octopuses and their relatives—the cephalopods—practice a type of genetic alteration called RNA editing that’s very rare in the rest of the animal kingdom. They use it to fine-tune the information encoded by their genes without altering the genes

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

Related Interests

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic24 min readPolitics
The 2020 U.S. Presidential Race: A Cheat Sheet
Prepare for the Demaspora. The deadline to qualify for the next Democratic primary debate is August 28, and as more candidates recognize they’re not going to make the cut, the field is clearing out. On August 15, it was former Colorado Governor John
The Atlantic3 min readSociety
The Cops Who Abused Photoshop
Last week, The Oregonian newspaper exposed what ought to be a headline-grabbing scandal in the course of reporting on an otherwise obscure criminal trial. The dicey behavior began when Portland cops investigating a series of bank robberies felt they
The Atlantic11 min read
An Existential Reading List for Middle-Aged Men
“To be known completely and to be loved is a very profound experience. Adult males do not often have that kind of an experience.”