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Octopuses (Octopus vulgaris) extensively edit their RNA to diversify the proteins they make. Claudio Contreras/NPL


Octopus smarts may come from RNA edits

Compared with other species, complex cephalopods stray more from the instructions written in their genomes.

In most organisms, genetic information is transmitted relatively faithfully from DNA to RNA, and on into proteins. But scientists have noted previously that some cephalopods — the class of molluscs that includes octopuses and squid — make extensive use of enzymes to edit their RNA, producing proteins that differ markedly from those encoded by the DNA. Now the researchers, Joshua Rosenthal at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, Eli Eisenberg at Tel Aviv University in Israel and their colleagues, have found that RNA editing is particularly common in the behaviourally complex cephalopods (cuttlefish, squid and octopuses) and occurs most frequently in RNA sequences associated with neural function.

Whereas other animals evolved through frequent DNA mutations, cephalopods have maintained a more static genome, instead adapting by diversifying their proteins through RNA editing.