There’s a surprising similarity between the brains of humans and octopuses

There’s a surprising similarity between the brains of humans and octopuses

Scientists have already established that octopuses are smarter than your average invertebrate, but a new discovery suggests one of the reasons: a specific molecular analogy to the human brain.

Both the human genome and the octopus genome contain a large number of “jumping genes” or transposons, capable of duplicating themselves or moving around in the genome. Although not all of them are active, these transposons are considered raw materials for evolutionary processes.

In a new study, transposons belonging to the LINE (Long Interspersed Nuclear Elements) family have been discovered in the part of the octopus brain that handles cognitive abilities – a place similar to where they can be found in the human brain.

“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 capacities and cognitive functions, just like the hippocampus in humans,” says biologist Giovanna Ponte of the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn research institute in Italy.

Recent research has revealed how LINE transposons are carefully regulated in the human brain, and are thought to be linked to learning and memory, in part because they are most active in the hippocampus. , from which learning processes are controlled.

By finding these jumping genes in the same location in the brains of two species of octopus – the common octopus (common octopus) and the California octopus (bimaculoid octopus) – researchers believe they may have found a key reason behind the high intelligence exhibited by these sea creatures.

Although transposons are known to use molecular copy-and-paste and cut-and-paste mechanisms, the study suggests that there is more going on here – that there is a direct relationship to the complexity of the nervous system, including including the brain.

“The discovery of an element of the LINE family, active in the brain of both species of octopus, is very significant because it supports the idea that these elements have a specific function that goes beyond copy-paste”, explains the computer scientist. Remo Sanges genomics from the Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati research institute in Italy.

Additionally, the researchers believe it could be an example of convergent evolution: when similar traits develop independently in completely unrelated species and provide the same adaptation, which in this case is higher cognitive abilities.

Scientists continue to find evolutionary tricks and neurological responses that set octopuses apart from invertebrates and bring them closer to mammals in brain structure and activity.

“The octopus brain is functionally analogous in many of its features to that of mammals,” says biologist Graziano Fiorito of the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn.

“For this reason also, the identified LINE element represents a very interesting candidate to study to improve our knowledge on the evolution of intelligence.”

The research has been published in BMC Biology.

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