Why do we find the sounds of nature relaxing? Could it be that we carry the memory of things that are beneficial to us in our DNA? Hard to say but the science of sound might hold some clues.
Octopus And Squid Evolution Is Officially Weirder Than We Could Have Ever Imagined
They edit their own genes!
Just when we thought octopuses couldn't be any weirder, it turns out that they and their cephalopod brethren evolve differently from nearly every other organism on the planet.
In a surprising twist, scientists have discovered that octopuses, along with some squid and cuttlefish species, routinely edit their RNA (ribonucleic acid) sequences to adapt to their environment.
This is weird because that's really not how adaptations usually happen in multicellular animals. When an organism changes in some fundamental way, it typically starts with a genetic mutation - a change to the DNA.
Those genetic changes are then translated into action by DNA's molecular sidekick, RNA. You can think of DNA instructions as a recipe, while RNA is the chef that orchestrates the cooking in the kitchen of each cell, producing necessary proteins that keep the whole organism going.
But RNA doesn't just blindly execute instructions - occasionally it improvises with some of the ingredients, changing which proteins are produced in the cell in a rare process called RNA editing.
When such an edit happens, it can change how the proteins work, allowing the organism to fine-tune its genetic information without actually undergoing any genetic mutations. But most organisms don't really bother with this method, as it's messy and causes problems more often that solving them.
"The consensus among folks who study such things is Mother Nature gave RNA editing a try, found it wanting, and largely abandoned it," Anna Vlasits reports forWired.
But now it looks like cephalopods didn't get the memo.
In 2015, researchers discovered that the common squid has edited more than 60 percent of RNA in its nervous system. Those edits essentially changed its brain physiology, presumably to adapt to various temperature conditions in the ocean.
Now the team is back with an even more startling finding - at least two species of octopus and one cuttlefish do the same thing on a regular basis. To draw evolutionary comparisons, they also looked at a nautilus and a gastropod slug, and found their RNA-editing prowess to be lacking.
"This shows that high levels of RNA editing is not generally a molluscan thing; it's an invention of the coleoid cephalopods," says co-lead researcher, Joshua Rosenthal of the US Marine Biological Laboratory.
The researchers analysed hundreds of thousands of RNA recording sites in these animals, who belong to the coleoid subclass of cephalopods. They found that clever RNA editing was especially common in the coleoid nervous system.
"I wonder if it has to do with their extremely developed brains," geneticist Kazuko Nishikura from the US Wistar Institute, who wasn't involved in the study, told Ed Yong at The Atlantic.
It's true that coleoid cephalopods are exceptionally intelligent. There are countless riveting octopus escape artist stories out there, not to mention evidence of tool use, and that one eight-armed guy at a New Zealand aquarium who learned to photograph people. (Yes, really.)
So it's certainly a compelling hypothesis that octopus smarts might come from their unconventionally high reliance on RNA edits to keep the brain going.
"There is something fundamentally different going on in these cephalopods," says Rosenthal.
But it's not just that these animals are adept at fixing up their RNA as needed - the team found that this ability came with a distinct evolutionary tradeoff, which sets them apart from the rest of the animal world.
In terms of run-of-the-mill genomic evolution (the one that uses genetic mutations, as mentioned above), coleoids have been evolving really, really slowly. The researchers think that this has been a necessary sacrifice - if you find a mechanism that helps you survive, just keep using it.
"The conclusion here is that in order to maintain this flexibility to edit RNA, the coleoids have had to give up the ability to evolve in the surrounding regions - a lot," says Rosenthal.
As the next step, the team will now be developing genetic models of cephalopods so they can trace how and when this RNA editing kicks in.
"It could be something as simple as temperature changes or as complicated as experience, a form of memory," says Rosenthal.
Octopuses are incredibly smart!
Swedish nuclear physicist just got the world’s first approved birth control app - as effective as the pill but using only mathematics
For over a year Elina Berglund nuclear physicist has been fighting authorities and malicious headlines. Now her app will be the first in the world to be approved as a contraceptive.
“It feels incredibly exciting that there is now an approved alternative to conventional pregnancy prevention methods, and that it’s possible to replace medication with technology,” says a more than satisfied Elina Berglund, who founded Natural Cycles together with her husband Raoul Scherwizl.
The approval comes from the German inspection and certification organization Tüv Süd, which has classified the app in the medicinal category of IIb. That means Natural Cycles officially offers a new, clinically tested alternative to birth control methods such as contraceptive pills, contraceptive implants and condoms.
2015 was a turbulent year for the founding couple. The difficulties peaked November 25 when the ruling of the Swedish Medicinal Products Agency reached their inbox. It demanded that all talk of contraceptive should be done away with in ten days, while the agency continued to investigate the matter. The app’s users were informed two days before Christmas.
“At that point it felt tough. Really tough. After all, the app had been developed for birth control,” Elina Berglund told Veckans Affärer in an interview during the summer of 2016.
On top of that, the information that the Medicinal Products Agency was investigating Natural Cycles leaked, and from the peak revenue of $280,000 in October 2015 they experienced a dramatic decline.
”By December our revenues were $120,000.”
The storm continued: Frightening headlines about Natural Cycles attempting to trick young women who lack the discipline to protect themselves, along with strict monitoring from the Medicinal Products Agency.
Now, more than a year later, Elina Berglund and her husband finally get their long-awaited vindication. The previous prognosis of doubled revenues for 2016 was lost in the time pending approval, but now it’s time to strive onward again.
“We barely grew at all last year, so now we’ll have to double up this year instead and go from revenues of about SEK 18 million to SEK 36 million.”
The plans of a big scale launch in the US will have to wait pending approval from the American regulatory agency, FDA. Instead, Natural Cycles will go ’all in’ into the UK, which is already one of the biggest markets for the company.
Natural Cycles calculates daily fertility with an algorithm.
To use the app, women measure the temperature underneath their tongues every morning and enter the measurement into the app. An algorithm developed uniquely for the app then determines whether you’re fertile or not that day, so that you know if you risk pregnancy by having unprotected sex.
Natural Cycles has over 150,000 users in 161 countries and a clinical study has proved that using the app is as effective as a method of birth control as being on the pill.