Biology professor interviewed on NPR about octopus RNA research

University Communications & Marketing | 06/14/2023

california two spot octopus- Tom Kleindinst-Marine Biological Laboratory
The California two-spot octopus can edit the RNA in its brain on a massive scale, likely allowing it to keep a clear head in both warm and cool waters. (Tom Kleindinst/Marine Biological Laboratory)


"The Octopus is known for its smarts, and now new research shows that these creatures can remake their brains in response to changes in their environment," according to a segment on NPR's All Things Considered that aired on June 8. 

Saint Francis University biology professor, Dr. Matthew Birk, is one of the scientists featured in the interview that delves into an article in the journal Cell, where researchers report that octopuses can edit genetic information to quickly resculpt those brains when confronted with changes in their environment such as heating or cooling waters. 

He and his colleagues found that octopuses do widespread (13,000+ codons!) editing of their RNA to tune protein structure and function in response to changes in temperature. This enables these animals to handle large seasonal changes in temperature. The process happens on a scale unheard-of in other animal groups, such as vertebrates. 

"We're trying to figure out how to capture this ability to use it towards therapeutics," explains Birk, like pain reduction or repairing harmful mutations that cause disease. 

Listen to his interview on NPR's A Weekly Dose of Wonder: Octopuses tweak the RNA in their brains to adjust to warmer and cooler waters


Dr. Birk's research has also picked up by several other notable outlets:


About Dr. Matthew Birk 

Dr. Matthew Birk is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Saint Francis University. He received his Ph.D. in Marine Science from the University of South Florida and a B.Sc. in Marine Biology from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. 

Dr. Birk studies how animals manage to strike a balance in oxygen supply and demand throughout environmental and exercise challenges. Octopuses, squids, and their relatives are an especially interesting focal group since they are able to sustain very active lifestyles (high oxygen demand) despite phylogenetically constrained oxygen supply. Dr. Birk is also broadly interested in many aspects of cephalopod biology. He applies an integrative approach to his research that incorporates biochemistry, genetics, physiology, behavior, and ecology to better understand marine animals and their roles in marine ecosystems. Additional information can be found at matthewabirk.weebly.com


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