Focus-Science and Technology - - DISCOVERIES -

If ASBOs were given out to sea crea­tures, it’s highly likely oc­to­puses would get slapped with more than their fair share. They spend much of their lives alone, fre­quently get into fights and have even been known to at­tack and kill one an­other af­ter mat­ing. Now, a study at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity has found that giv­ing them a small dose of MDMA – a psy­choac­tive drug also known as ec­stasy – makes them so so­cia­ble that they touch and hug one an­other.

The find­ings sug­gest there could be an evo­lu­tion­ary link be­tween the so­cial be­hav­iours of the sea crea­tures and hu­mans de­spite the species be­ing sep­a­rated by 500 mil­lion years on the evo­lu­tion­ary tree, the re­searchers say.

“The brains of oc­to­puses are more sim­i­lar to those of snails than hu­mans, but our stud­ies add to ev­i­dence that they can ex­hibit some of the same be­hav­iours that we can,” said as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor Gül Dölen, at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity School of Medicine. “What our stud­ies sug­gest is that cer­tain brain chem­i­cals, or neu­ro­trans­mit­ters, that send sig­nals be­tween neu­rons re­quired for th­ese so­cial be­hav­iours are evo­lu­tion­ar­ily con­served.”

The team placed four Cal­i­for­nia two-spot oc­to­puses that had been ex­posed to MDMA, one at a time, into a set-up of three con­nected wa­ter cham­bers: one empty, one with a plas­tic ac­tion fig­ure un­der a cage and one with a fe­male or male lab­o­ra­tory-bred oc­to­pus un­der a cage. All four tended to spend more time in the cham­ber where the oc­to­pus was caged. Un­der nor­mal con­di­tions, with­out MDMA, the oc­to­puses avoided the male caged oc­to­puses.

“It’s not just quan­ti­ta­tively more time, but qual­i­ta­tive. The oc­to­puses tended to hug the cage and also put their mouth parts on the cage,” said Dölen. “This is very sim­i­lar to how hu­mans re­act to MDMA; they touch each other fre­quently.”

How­ever, the team at Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity School of Medicine cau­tions that the re­sults are pre­lim­i­nary and need to be repli­cated be­fore oc­to­puses might be used as mod­els for brain re­search.

The drug ec­stasy ap­pears to have a sim­i­lar ef­fect on oc­to­puses’ brains as it does on hu­mans’

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