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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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