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At Mind Matters News: Can largely rearranged genomes explain why octopuses are smart?


Octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish are among the smartest invertebrates, rivalling mammals for complex behavior that can include delaying gratification, having good memories (even in old age), and getting emotional about pain. Yet they are related to life forms like the nautilus which displays no such qualities.

Even compared to each other, the genomes of three cephalopods studied had been broken up and extensively reorganized:

Looking to solve the mystery, researchers began to examine the genomes of the two-spot octopus, the Boston Market squid, and the Hawaiian bobtail squid. And that’s where they discovered something interesting. Squid genomes were arranged differently from those of similar life forms.:

The scientists admit that they don’t know just how breaking up and reorganizing the genome results in increased intelligence but it is a promising research avenue.

News, “Can largely rearranged genomes explain why octopuses are smart?” at Mind Matters News (May 17, 2022)

Takehome: It’s still not clear just how intelligence develops in a life form. The relationship between massive genome rearrangement and very high intelligence in an invertebrate remains unclear but it is a promising research avenue.

Both the April 21 paper and the May 4 paper at Nature Communications are open access.

You may also wish to read: Octopuses get emotional about pain, research suggests. The smartest of invertebrates, the octopus, once again prompts us to rethink what we believe to be the origin of intelligence. The brainy cephalopods behaved about the same as lab rats under similar conditions, raising both neuroscience and ethical issues.

Denton provides the limitations on aquatic species in terms of intelligence. The limitations on processing oxygen in an aquatic environment are insurmountable for large brains.
Although recent research has revealed that many fish have surprising abilities, and some exhibit a remarkable degree of intelligence, their far lower metabolic rates preclude their developing the far larger energy-demanding brains with the cognitive abilities of clever air-breathing animals, including dolphins, ravens, chimpanzees and, of course, humans. And even on some alien world in which gilled aquatic creatures somehow had managed to reach metabolic rates and intelligence equal to those of their “terrestrial brothers,” they could still not develop a technology. Using fire, developing metallurgy, having knowledge of chemistry, and using electricity for technology (water is a conductor, air an insulator) are all impossible in water. Our hypothetical counterfactual highly intelligent fish or octopus would still be stuck in an eternal Stone Age, able perhaps to use primitive tools but unable to use fire, make metal tools, gain knowledge of chemistry, or invent electrical devices. If you want to possess a high metabolic rate, be warm-blooded with fast neural processing, fast thinking, and fast reflexes; if you want to possess an oversized energy-hungry brain like that of modern humans, and if you want to successfully pursue technological development, you must be an air-breather. And as we will explore in Chapter 7, it seems likely that any carbon-based life form anywhere else in the universe intelligent enough to develop an advanced technological civilization also will be a warm-blooded air-breather.”
Extremely interesting. I figured the nautilus, with the same kind of physical layout, would also be intelligent. Octopuses don't study us because we live on a different planet. They certainly study all the animals and plants in their world, and know how to imitate them. polistra

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