• José H. Leal

Giant Squid Genome Unveiled!

The Giant Squid, Architeuthis dux Steenstrup, 1857, is the largest living invertebrate, with females attaining about 13 m (43 ft) in length. The species genome was recently unraveled by a team of scientists led by Rute da Fonseca of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. The genome is the total DNA set of an organism, a system that contains all the hereditary information for a given species. Complete sets of the genome of an organism are included in all cells that have a nucleus.

The results of the research by da Fonseca and collaborators were published on January 16, 2020, in the online journal GigaScience. The scientific team responsible for the novel findings includes Caroline Albertin, from the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole (MBL), the leading scientist in a group that in 2015 sequenced the first genome of a cephalopod, the branch of mollusks that includes octopus, squid, nautilus, and cuttles.

Knowing the genome makes it easier to understand the evolution and the biology of a species. The entire human genome contains more than three billion DNA base pairs. The newly reported Giant Squid genome is estimated at about 2.7 billion base pairs; this is about 90 percent of the human genome, and an indication of the potential genetic complexity and biological sophistication of our beloved cephalopod behemoths. The genome of the Giant Squid includes unique genes linked to advanced brain development, which may provide additional insights on the evolutionary paths associated with the “intelligence” of those cephalopods. For readers who are more technically inclined, a copy of the GigaScience article may be found here.

Giant Squid, in a detail of the classic illustration by Alphonse de Neuville for Jules Verne's "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea," 1870.

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