Research group discovers the origin of octopuses' instant modulation of body coloration

September 11, 2017 by Zhou Yijing, Peking University
The origin of the reflectin gene and hierarchical assembly of its protein. Credit: Peking University

Cephalopods, the group of animals including octopus, squid, and cuttlefish, are famous for their remarkable ability to modulate body coloration and patterns instantly. With this ability, they can easily blend into surrounding environments or send warning signals to other animals. Reflectin, a protein that exists exclusively in cephalopods, is responsible for this structural color change. However, its origin and working mechanism are still unknown.

Researcher Xie Can from School of Life Sciences, Peking University, and his co-workers carried out a 5-year research and traced the origin of the reflectin gene back to a transposon from the symbiotic bioluminescent bacterium Vibrio fischeri. They hypothesized that a (HGT) event introduced the reflectin gene into ancient cephalopods. In addition, the hierarchical structure of reflectin protein was reported. Activated by some chemical molecules and neurotransmitters, reflectin is able to form ordered structures swiftly. Moreover, the team also found that self-assembly and higher-order assembly in reflectin originated from a core repeating octapeptide, which may be from the aforementioned symbiotic bacteria, and named it "protopeptide."

The discovery was published online in Current Biology as the cover paper, with PhD Student Guan Zhe and Cai Tiantian as the co-first authors and Xie Can as the corresponding author.

Explore further: Marine biologists clarify how specialized cells in squid skin are able to control the animal's coloration

More information: Zhe Guan et al. Origin of the Reflectin Gene and Hierarchical Assembly of Its Protein, Current Biology (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.07.061

Related Stories

Recommended for you

When does one of the central ideas in economics work?

February 20, 2019

The concept of equilibrium is one of the most central ideas in economics. It is one of the core assumptions in the vast majority of economic models, including models used by policymakers on issues ranging from monetary policy ...

In colliding galaxies, a pipsqueak shines bright

February 20, 2019

In the nearby Whirlpool galaxy and its companion galaxy, M51b, two supermassive black holes heat up and devour surrounding material. These two monsters should be the most luminous X-ray sources in sight, but a new study using ...

Research reveals why the zebra got its stripes

February 20, 2019

Why do zebras have stripes? A study published in PLOS ONE today takes us another step closer to answering this puzzling question and to understanding how stripes actually work.

Correlated nucleons may solve 35-year-old mystery

February 20, 2019

A careful re-analysis of data taken at the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility has revealed a possible link between correlated protons and neutrons in the nucleus and a 35-year-old mystery. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.