Scientists discover the first ever animal that can alter its own genetics

Louis Staples
Friday 03 April 2020 15:30
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When it comes to ocean animals, you don’t get much cooler than the squid.

They can change colour, squirt ink, come in giant sizes and are generally known as the slippery badasses of the sea.

But scientists are collectively fan-girling over squid because it turns out they have incredible genetic editing ability.

A new study has revealed that squid can tweak their own RNA long after it's left the nucleus.

...The what now?

Here’s what that means

If you’re wondering what that means (fair enough) here's the 4-1-1. Genes, in humans at least, mostly stay unchanging until they're recombined and passed onto the next generation.

This is the same for our messenger RNA (mRNA). These molecules read our DNA, create short little RNA messages, and send them outside the nucleus to tell the rest of the cell what needs to happen next. It’s all very complicated.

Crucially, though, once that RNA has exited the nucleus, it's generally accepted that the genetic information it carries can’t change.

But new research has shown that in squid nerves, this isn't the case.

Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), Woods Hole geneticist Joshua Rosenthal, says:

We are showing that squid can modify the RNAs out in the periphery of the cell. 

It works by this massive tweaking of its nervous system.

Why is this a big deal?

With this finding, squids are the only creatures (that we know of) that can do this. So it's pretty major.

Why do squids do this?

We don't know the answer to this one, but the research team has some ideas. Apparently this ability could be one of the reasons why these creatures are so intelligent.

If you want to read up more, the research was first published in Nucleic Acids Research.

H/T: Science Alert

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