Octopus and Squid Are ‘a gold mine’ to Understand Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

Marine biologists study in the United States the similarities between these animals and humans.

If we compare humans with octopus or squid, at first glance we would say that we have nothing in common.

We are mammals, we live on earth, we can not breathe underwater and we walk on two legs. They, on the other hand, are 100% aquatic molluscs, have the ability to change colour and can stretch and shrink in a way that they can pass through extremely narrow places. And, as if that were not enough, his life expectancy is limited to perhaps six months, something very distant from what happens with Homo sapiens.

So, why do these animals capture the interest of marine biologists focused on biomedicine? Both octopuses and squids like us have genes with similar processes, which can be very useful to understand neurodegenerative diseases, especially those that occur at the end of life, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s,

These evils are characterized by a progressive and irreversible damage to the nervous tissue that diminishes the abilities of those who face them.

For this reason, scientists from the Marine Biology Laboratory in Massachusetts, United States (MBL, for its acronym in English) devote several lines of research to know them in detail.

Bret Grasse, coordinator of the Center for Cephalopod Studies (class of marine invertebrates that groups octopus and squid) explained that, if we take into account the study of genes, we will see that, from the evolutionary point of view, there are many things in common.

“There are certain structures of evolution that we are similar to, for example, in our case as well as in that of the octopuses, we have deeply complex organs of vision,” the specialist told journalists participating in the Scientific Journalism Program. of the MBL, of which La Nación is part.

“Recently our researcher finished sequencing the genome of an octopus species and saw genes that were only believed to be present in mammals, genes related to memory and brain functions, but even more so, while in some mammals not only 40 pairs of these genes were seen, 168 pairs were seen in the octopus studied, “said Grasse.

Study in designed conditions

Researchers in different branches of marine biology (mostly evolutionary biologists) take samples of different cephalopods at different stages of their lives to study their behaviour and relate it to the life status of their genes.

For this, they even have designed habitats that resemble the living conditions of squids or octopuses in their first days of life.

These small creatures are placed in small compartments inside a fish tank and, as they grow, they are moved to places of greater space that resemble the characteristics of the places where they would live in their natural environment, without the vicissitudes of climate change or of predators that want to kill them.

With that starting point, they study the similarities that could eventually exist with other living beings, including humans.

“The fact that they have a relatively short life period makes them attractive for study, it would be very complicated to have a large population of any living being if they lived ten years or more, but, being beings that live less than a year, we can study all their We can determine the specific characteristics, see how they behave and if their nervous functions are decreasing at the end of the life cycle and how, “said Grasse.

According to the scientist, another important aspect of his short life is that if they lived longer, it would be harder to succumb to threats such as climate change or the El Niño phenomenon. Being a shorter period of life, it is easier to transfer to the following generations information on how to adapt to these changes, which is also useful for studying.

Octopus and Squid Are 'a gold mine' to Understand Alzheimer's and Parkinson's

Fledgling research

The specialist was clear: “we can not say that these molluscs have Alzheimer’s or other dementia at the end of their lives, not that they have something similar to Parkinson’s, but that their functions are diminished in a range similar to that seen in humans and that can give us interesting data, here we are not looking for a cure, it is research in basic science that allows us to better understand these phenomena with which as a society we must face ourselves day by day “.

According to Grasse and his collaborators, there are still no answers that can help to understand how the neurodegenerative problems of these mollusks can be related to those of the human being, but they are beginning to understand them and this is already the first step for those who study neurosciences.

Being such a basic level of study, this means that it is very possible that the results take several years (even decades) to give answers for human beings, given the complexity of our species.

“We know that the human brain is much more complex, but with molluscs, we have the facility to study the brain and nervous system deterioration of a whole life in a short period of time and that could give us some insights. but it can be another starting point for those who investigate these evils and seek specific solutions, “concluded Grasse.


Source: La Nacion