Cephalopod Science | God's World News

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Cephalopod Science

09/01/2023
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    The California two-spot octopus can edit its own RNA. (Tom Kleindinst/MBL)
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    DNA has two strands in a double-helix shape. RNA has just one strand. (123RF)
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    RNA editing might help explain why octopuses are so smart and how they can change colors. (Public domain)
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    Cephalopods are cold-blooded. (Hans Hillewaert/CC BY-SA 4.0)
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    Unlike the cold-blooded octopuses, this warm-blooded polar bear doesn’t mind cold temperatures. (AP/Fred Jewell)
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Feeling a little chilly? Put on a sweater. Or better yet: Adjust your own molecules to make yourself warmer.

Of course, you can’t do that. But according to a new study, cephalopods—such as octopuses—can. When exposed to different temperatures, they edit their own RNA to adapt.

You’ve probably heard about DNA. DNA carries the genetic information that tells the body what to do. But what about RNA?

RNA stands for ribonucleic acid. Like DNA, it’s a molecule found in living cells. But where DNA has two strands in a double-helix shape, RNA has just one strand. It carries instructions from the DNA to cells in other parts of the body. For example, RNA can tell the body to produce different types of proteins. Think of DNA as the boss who holds the master plan. RNA is the messenger, conveying its instructions.

Some creatures can change their own RNA. This is called “RNA editing.” Even humans do it to some extent. But researchers Joshua Rosenthal and Eli Eisenberg discovered that cephalopods conduct RNA editing on a huge scale.

Cephalopods are cold-blooded. They can’t regulate body temperature like warm-blooded creatures do. But when tides roll in and seasons change, the sea can turn chilly. So how does an octopus keep warm in the water?

That’s where RNA editing comes in. Dr. Rosenthal and Dr. Eisenberg studied the California two-spot octopus. They placed one group of octopuses in normal water temperatures. They placed another at the colder end of the natural octopus temperature range. In the cold-water group, they found RNA editing increases at 13,285 sites in the creatures’ nervous systems.

Scientists suggest this editing helps the octopus adapt to gradual temperature shifts. It’s not as useful for faster changes.

This finding matters for more than cephalopods. It shows that a creature’s environment can actually affect its genes.

“We’re used to thinking all living things are preprogrammed from birth with a certain set of instructions,” says Dr. Rosenthal. “The idea the environment can influence that genetic information, as we’ve shown in cephalopods, is a new concept.”

God gives creatures amazing abilities to adapt. Scientists are only just learning how gene editing works. But cephalopods have been doing it for thousands of years!

Researchers believe this gene editing helps with more than temperature regulation. They think it might also explain why octopuses are so smart and how they change colors for camouflage. What else could RNA editing explain?

“I think it’s the tip of the iceberg,” says Dr. Rosenthal.

Why? Science is making astounding discoveries. But it still has much to learn about creation—even about the molecules that make up our bodies.

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