Under the sea

5 ways cephalopods challenge our understanding of evolution

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Cephalopods such as octopuses and squid may seem like the closest thing to alien life here on Earth, but studies on them could have far-reaching implications for other creatures.


Here are 5 ways cephalopods are changing our understanding of life on Earth.

5. Octopuses can defy their own DNA

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Living creatures, including humans, have the capability to alter messages from DNA in a process called RNA editing. For most animals, it's not seen as very important.


Octopuses use RNA editing to greater effect, like letting them live in cold water. In exchange, they're less likely to make long-term adaptations.


The finding has scientists wondering if RNA editing in nature is more important than previously realized.

4. Invertebrates may be more social than we thought

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MDMA is well-known as both a party drug and a potential therapeutic for PTSD and anxiety. It works in part by increasing the neurotransmitter serotonin.


Researchers from Johns Hopkins University gave MDMA to octopuses — not to party, but to study them — and found that it made the sea creatures more sociable.

Evidence of sociability in invertebrates suggests they're capable of something closer to emotion than we thought.

3. Squid could be man's next best friend


Cephalopods have extremely complex brains. They have more neurons than the perennial scientific subject, the rat.

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Researchers from the University of Queensland found that squid have about as many neurons as dogs.


The study was the first to view a squid brain with an MRI machine and could shed light on their incredible camouflage abilities.

2. Self-control may not be just for primates

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Self-control separates humans from most other animals, allowing us to put off short-term desires for long-term benefits.

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Cuttlefish are one of the few non-primates to show signs of self-control, a study conducted by University of Cambridge scientists recently found.

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Understanding the origin of self-control could help researchers unlock the evolution of intelligence.

1. Invertebrates may feel pain like we do


Pain plays an important role in shaping vertebrates' behavior, teaching them what situations to avoid for their own good.

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Researchers from San Francisco State University found that octopuses may have a similar capacity to feel pain and act to avoid it.


Further study could explain the evolution of pain, and expand our understanding of which animals experience it.

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