It turns out Octopi are the Real X-Men

Octopi use a unique genetic mechanism to learn and adapt to their environment. RNA editing is also implicated in human disease including cancer, epilepsy, schizophrenia and cystic fibrosis.

in the nervous system giving them an advantage over other sea creatures. But the large number of RNA-edited sites greatly reduces the number of mutations and genomic diversity in protein-coding regions.

Where the genetic material of humans, insects, and other multi-celled organisms is like a Shakespearean play that has retained much of its essence over the past 100 years, the octopi genome is more like improv, where the audience or environment suggest words for the actors to incorporate. With the new octopi information, researchers can better understand the advantages and disadvantages of different forms of RNA editing.

RNA editing has emerged as a new player in cancer biology. A recent study in Genome Research reports key roles for individual microRNA editing in 20 cancer types. These microRNA editing events show extensive correlations with clinical variables such as tumor subtype and disease stage. Cancer survival rates are tied to a key tumor metastasis suppression site where RNA editing happens.

Another article in Genome Research highlighted the important role of RNA editing in seizure disorders. Researchers identified 256 RNA sites where the degree of RNA editing was significantly different between epileptic mice and normal mice. The level of RNA editing was also different when researchers looked at the severity of seizures in both acquired symptomatic epilepsy and genetic epilepsy.

RNA editing disturbances have been tied to schizophrenia, a genetically related mental illness, in which the majority of genetic alterations occur in the non-coding regions of the human genome. Researchers focused on the schizophrenia-related RNA to prove a causal relationship between genetic defects and the pathophysiology of schizophrenia.

Rosenthal hopes to discover what role RNA editing might play in the intelligence of Celphalop sea predators because he wonders whether it might lead to treatments and therapies for cystic fibrosis and other diseases. A 2014 article in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that animal cells use an editing mechanism that changes genetic building blocks (adenosine, inosine, guanosine) in messenger RNA. This mechanism can be tweaked to correct a cystic fibrosis causing mutation.

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