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  • Writer's pictureSinead Mackintosh

MY (SHAPE-SHIFTING, RNA EDITING) OCTOPUS TEACHER?


Gene editing has been in the news a lot lately. Between designer babies and the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry being awarded to professors Charpentier and Doudna for their work on CRISPR technology, a lot is going on in this field.


But, this manipulation of gene expression is not as new as we think. Octopuses, some squid and cuttlefish (collectively called cephalopods) have been editing their own RNA to respond to their environment for thousands of years!


RNA is like DNA’s cousin. DNA is made up of two strands and is a permeant resident in cells, whereas RNA is single-stranded and is continuously made and degraded depending on what proteins need to be made. RNA acts as the middleman between the genes on DNA and the protein “factories” that need those instructions.


RNA can be edited in most organisms, but what is weird about the cephalopods is how much they have control over. In the common squid, researchers found that the squid could edit up to 60% of its RNA in the nervous system. These edits affected the brain physiology and are thought to be an adaptation to ocean temperature variation. This is real-time adaptation through editing how and what proteins are being made in each cell in their bodies!


This ability to extensively edit RNA might come at an evolutionary cost to the cephalopods. The researchers looked at their DNA and thought that they are evolving slower than other animals. This might be a trade-off since they can adapt to the environment using their nifty RNA trick; they might not have to evolve through DNA mutations.


The researchers were aiming to study how and when the RNA editing starts in the cephalopods. They want to know if something like changes in temperature or something more complex like a form of memory!


Either way, cephalopods just keep getting cooler!


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