Q&A: Evolution of Octopus and Squid Brains Could Shed Light on Origins of Intelligence | ScienceBlog

This is an interview with Matt McCoy, Stanford University. McCoy spent summers at MBL studying the genetics of bobtail squid as a Grass Fellow (2018) and a Whitman Fellow (2019).

Ocean-dwelling, otherworldly, and intelligent, the bobtail squid possesses a brain that is complex yet very different from our own.

This squishy, walnut-sized creature is a cephalopod (a group that includes octopuses, squids and cuttlefish), the only invertebrate group that has evolved nervous systems and behaviors as complex as what we see in mammals and birds.

By studying the independent evolution of the cephalopod nervous system, researchers like Matt McCoy seek to look past the differences to see common features that could teach us fundamental truths about the evolution of intelligence itself.

McCoy is an Interdisciplinary Postdoctoral Scholar at the Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute at Stanford where he studies genes important for nervous system evolution.

As part of his PhD work in molecular genetics and genomics, McCoy spent time reprogramming human skin cells into neurons. He noticed that to become neurons, these cells all turned on a distinct class of enormously large genes — sequences of DNA base pairs that go on for 10 or 100 times longer than the average gene. At first, he used this feature to pick out which cells had successfully become neurons, but eventually realized that he might have struck something fundamental about nervous system biology. McCoy has since found that these large genes appear across the tree of life, all the way back to the earliest evolution of nervous systems. Read the full interview on ScienceBlog.com.

 

Source: Q&A: Evolution of Octopus and Squid Brains Could Shed Light on Origins of Intelligence | ScienceBlog