Harvard Scientists Make a New Discovery of Octopuses’ Tentacles

An Octopus
Harvard Scientists Make a New Discovery of Octopuses’ Tentacles

Octopuses have marveled humans for as long as they’ve co-existed. From the Scandinavian Kraken legends to less-threatening shows like Netflix’s My Octopus Teacher, these mysterious, odd-looking creatures are vastly unexplored. A team of Harvard scientists decided to delve deeper and try to understand how the tentacles, and the suction cups on them, in particular, do their work. How do they recognize what is food and what is not? After a series of biomechanics experiments, they finally have some answers.

How Do Octopuses’ Tentacles Work on a Molecular Level?

Suction cups on octopuses' tentacles up close
Harvard Scientists Make a New Discovery of Octopuses’ Tentacles

That was the question that Nicholas Bellono, an assistant professor of cellular and molecular biology, wanted to find out together with his fellow scientists. What their research found was that the suction cups on the octopus’ tentacles have adapted to respond to and detect molecules that are insoluble in water. Bellono and his colleagues discovered a novel family of sensors, called chemotactile receptors, located in the first layer of cells inside the suction cups.

The Experiment

To identify these sensors and test their responsiveness, researchers isolated and cloned the detection cells in the suction cups. Then, they inserted the cloned cells into frog eggs as well as in human cell lines to study how these detection cells would function in isolation. Since these receptors don’t exist in frog or human cells, they acted like closed vessels and allowed biologists to study them.

An octopus
Harvard Scientists Make a New Discovery of Octopuses’ Tentacles

The researchers exposed the detection cells to molecules that octopuses are known to react to. Some of these were water-soluble, and others weren’t. Surprisingly, the receptors were only activated when exposed to the items with poorly soluble molecules. To conclude the experiment, Bellono and his team went back to the octopuses in their lab and tested them for the same extracts that caused the cloned cells to respond. The only odorants the octopuses’ receptors responded to were identical to those of the cloned cells.

While the study does answer how tentacles and their suction cups “sift through” prey and non-prey items on a molecular level, scientists believe that more research is necessary to uncover the other natural compounds that stimulate octopuses’ receptors and their behaviors.

Snakebite Victims Can Use Innovative Venom Treatments

For people in the United States and Europe, suffering from a snakebite is rare, and it’s hardly ever fatal. Australia is known for its deadly and venomous snakes, but snakebites only account for a small number of annual deaths. However, in Sub-Saharan Africa, an average of 270,000 people are bitten every year. About 12,300 of them result in death, while 14,700 result in amputation, and 55,000 results in post-traumatic stress.

Snakebite Victims Can Use Innovative Venom Treatments

Snakebite Venom Treatments

One approach to snakebite venom treatment includes horse-derived antibodies. However, it can sometimes also put the patient at greater risk. This is so because the horse-derived antibodies can be recognized as foreign by the human immune system.

Due to this, over the past decade, many researchers have looked into taking horses out of the equation. This could potentially make antivenoms safer and more affordable. One approach includes “humanized” antibodies that can be produced in a lab by replacing the ends of human antibody genes with some venom-naturalizing parts so that the human body won’t perceive them as foreign.

There is also hope to discover fully human antibodies that can be effective. With either approach, chances are that at least 90% of the side effects will be removed.

Some of the side-effects from a venomous snakebite.
Snakebite Victims Can Use Innovative Venom Treatments

Antivenom Without Animal Antibodies

By producing snakebite antivenom without antibodies from animals, it can also lower the production costs. Antivenom is currently one of the most expensive drugs in rural areas, which can make it tough for patients to get their hands on it.

Many patients in the world can be saved by antivenom; however, they may not be able to afford it. If the government in the area doesn’t keep clinics fully stocked with free medicine, patients can die.

Antivenoms without animals can naturalize venomous toxins and save lives at a more affordable cost. There are also options to use existing drugs as snakebite treatments.