Decoding the Genome of the Common Octopus at the Chromosome Level Reveals New Genetic Insights


Octopuses are captivating creatures, and they have played a crucial role as model organisms in various fields, including neuroscience, cognition research, and developmental biology. To gain a deeper understanding of their biology and evolutionary history, scientists have been in need of accurate data on the composition of their genome, which was lacking until recently. Addressing this gap, a team of researchers from the University of Vienna, along with international collaborators, has successfully decoded the genome of the common octopus at the chromosome level. The findings, published in G3: Genes / Genomes / Genetics, reveal that the octopus genome contains an impressive 2.8 billion base pairs, organized into 30 chromosomes.

Octopuses, along with squid and cuttlefish, belong to a group of cephalopods called coleoids. This group comprises hundreds of species that exhibit diverse lifestyles, body structures, and adaptations to their environment. These animals have been a subject of study for a long time, particularly due to the neuronal plasticity of the octopus brain. This plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt as the organism learns and experiences new things. It provides evidence for the presence of functionally analogous structures to mammalian brains, making them a valuable group for neurophysiological studies. Additionally, the octopus’s ability to regenerate body parts and rapidly change body patterns, which are important for camouflage and communication, has made them a popular research subject for understanding the origins and changes of innovative traits during evolution.

The scientific community has recognized the need for detailed knowledge about cephalopod genomes to understand the evolution of their unique traits and biology. One important step towards achieving this understanding is decoding the genome of the common octopus at the chromosome level—a feat that was previously unaccomplished. The research team from the University of Vienna, in collaboration with colleagues from KU Leuven, the Centro Nacional de Análisis Genómico (CNAG), and the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, has filled this gap by conducting extensive molecular biological and computer-assisted studies of the octopus genome.

By using state-of-the-art genomic research technologies, the team created a genome map for the octopus, revealing how genetic information is organized on the chromosome level. This highly resolved reference genome will enable the scientific community to gain a better understanding of the characteristics and biology of octopuses, as well as trace the evolutionary history of Octopus vulgaris. Furthermore, researchers can now investigate the evolutionary trajectory of coleoid cephalopods and distantly related mollusks such as clams and snails.

The study identified 30 chromosomes in the Octopus vulgaris genome, with 99.34% of the 2.8 billion base pairs arranged accordingly. This means that scientists now have a high-quality reference sequence to study the function of genes and gain a better understanding of the biological properties of the common octopus.

The chromosomal structure of the Octopus vulgaris genome also provides insights into the dynamic evolutionary history of these organisms by estimating chromosome rearrangement rates. Comparing the Octopus vulgaris genome with the genomes of four other octopus species, the researchers discovered numerous structural changes in all chromosomes. These changes occurred during evolution, involving the breaking off, rearranging, and reconnecting of pieces of chromosomes in the same chromosome.

The researchers also observed various structural changes in the chromosomes of closely related species. This finding raises questions about the dynamics of genome evolution throughout their history and opens the door to investigating how these dynamics relate to their unique traits.

The dynamic evolutionary history of the octopus genome covers a span of 44 million years, and many exciting research questions still remain. However, the results of this study provide a foundation for bridging traditional research in neurobiology, behavior, and development of Octopus vulgaris with molecular genetic insights in these areas.


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