Cephalopods like octopuses, squids and cuttlefish are highly intelligent animals with complex nervous systems. In Science Advances, a team led by Nikolaus Rajewsky of the Max Delbrück Center has now shown that their evolution ...
If we go far enough back in evolutionary history, we encounter the last known common ancestor of humans and cephalopods: a primitive wormlike animal with minimal intelligence and simple eyespots. Later, the animal kingdom can be divided into two groups of organisms—those with backbones and those without. While vertebrates, particularly primates and other mammals, went on to develop large and complex brains with diverse cognitive abilities, invertebrates did not. With one exception: the cephalopods.
Scientists have long wondered why such a complex nervous system was only able to develop in these mollusks. Now, an international team led by researchers from the Max Delbrück Center and Dartmouth College in the United States has put forth a possible reason. In a paper published in Science Advances, they explain that octopuses possess a massively expanded repertoire of microRNAs (miRNAs) in their neural tissue—reflecting similar developments that occurred in vertebrates.
Octopuses have complex “camera” eyes, as seen here in a juvenile animal. Credit: Nir Friedman