Discovery of a whole new way to design a nervous system

Discovery of a whole new way to design a nervous system

Octopuses fascinate many researchers like Melina Hale, holder of the William Rainey Harper Chair in Organic Biology and Vice President at the University of Chicago. Their arms can bend anywhere, not just at the joints. They can twist, extend their arms and operate their suction cups, all independently. Therefore, scientists believe that these animals can be a source of biological inspiration for the design of autonomous underwater devices.

Recently, Hale and his team, as part of the Marine Biological Laboratory’s Cephalopod Research, decided to take a closer look at the arm control mechanism octopus. For this, they used very young octopuses from which they traced the intramuscular nerve cords.

The bodies of these octopuses are small enough to allow researchers to photograph the base of all eight of their arms at the same time.

A highly developed and complex nervous system

The United States Office of Naval Research funded this research. The results came as a great surprise to scientists who had not expected to find a advanced nervous system in octopuses. This discovery gives them new perspectives on the evolution of the nervous systems of invertebrate species.

The latter were able to develop complex nervous systems independently of other species. These animals can engage in a wide range of complex behaviors. The fact is that the alternative structures of the nervous system constitute a very interesting study topic for researchers. In particular, they will make it possible to imagine a new way of detecting the movements of the limbs and controlling them.

A possible application in robotics research

The function of an arm octopus is much more sophisticated than ours. Its complex nervous system allows it to perform movements that most vertebrates are unable to do. During this study, the researchers were able to describe how octopuses integrate sensory-motor information and movement control.

In particular, they were able to determine the course of the intramuscular nerve cords that help the octopus to perceive the movements of its arms and to connect arms on opposite sides. This discovery is fundamental for research. It would allow develop new technologies in the field of robotic engineering such as autonomous underwater devices.