Octopus brain more similar to the human brain than thought: ‘Fascinating example of convergent evolution’

Humans might have evolved from apes, but that doesn’t mean we don’t share the same characteristics with other animals. A team of international researchers made a startling discovery when they found both the human and octopus brain share the same “jumping genes.”

“Jumping genes” are active in both the human brain and in the brain of two species of octopus — Octopus vulgarisms and Octopus bimaculoides. Over 45% of the human genome is composed by sequences called transposons, or the jumping genes, that can “move from one point to another of an individual’s genome, shuffling or duplicating.”

Researchers say these mobile elements usually remain silent and lost their ability to move. Others are inactive because they accumulated mutations over generations, while some are intact but blocked by cellular defense mechanisms.

According to researchers, the most relevant mobile elements belong to the Long Interspersed Nuclear Elements (LINE) family, which are found in 100 copies in the human genome and still potentially active. Scientists believe LINE “jumping genes” are associated with cognitive abilities like learning and memory.

Researchers say the octopus’ genome is also rich in jumping genes, which are mostly inactive. Researchers were able to identify “an element of the LINE family in parts of the brain crucial for the cognitive abilities of these animals.”

“The discovery of an element of the LINE family, active in the brain of the two octopuses species, is very significant because it adds support to the idea that these elements have a specific function that goes beyond copy-and-paste,” says Remo Sanges, director of the Computational Genomics laboratory at SISSA, in a statement.

Giovanna Ponte, from Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, adds: “I literally jumped on the chair when, under the microscope, I saw a very strong signal of activity of this element in the vertical lobe, the structure of the brain which in the octopus is the seat of learning and cognitive abilities, just like the hippocampus in humans.”

Researchers called it a “fascinating example of convergent evolution.”

“This similarity between man and octopus that shows the activity of a LINE element in the seat of cognitive abilities could be explained as a fascinating example of convergent evolution, a phenomenon for which, in two genetically distant species, the same molecular process develops independently, in response to similar needs,” said Giuseppe Petrosino, from Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, and Stefano Gustincich, from Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, in a statement.

The study is published in BMC Biology.


  1. Ocopi are indeed ery intelligent. At an aquarium somewhere the sign said the octopus would come out of hiding a 2 pm. For two days they poked him with a stick and out he came.
    On the third day at five till two he came out on his own.
    Not many, if any, people could do that.

    1. I have always thought that if there was an alien presence on Earth, it would be the Octopus.

      Consider the one who
      escaped from an aquarium in New Zealand. The octopus left the tank & entered a floor drain which led to the ocean. Other octopuses have been reported to squirt water at lights (shorting them out) that were annoying them.

      If anyone can provide a rational explanation as to HOW the creatures were aware that the deliberate performance of those highly specific acts would lead to a desired outcome, I am all ears.

    1. Do you think Octopi have the same dry wit as gifted humans like yourself seem to possess? Thank you for making my day start well.

  2. However, most marine biologists agree that they are far more susceptible to Hydrocephalus, also known as “water on the brain”, than human beings…

  3. Watch the documentary “My Octopus Teacher”.

    You’ll never see octopi the same again. Mind blowing how intelligent they are.

  4. I have had pet octopuses ( the word is greek not latin Thus the s) for years. They tend to live about a year and a half. Over the years I have been train. Or maybe they trained me. It takes a month or so to gain their trust. They liked to be petted in front or behind the eyes. They tend to go limp. They liked to be played with. A dolphin and a octopus will play. I can put my hand in the tank and grab it and shake it all around. sometime when I am cleaning the tank it would come out of the tank and squirt me right be tween the eyes and then go hide. I could go on for hours. Do not get one unless you have the to keep it clan and happy.

  5. What evidence do you have that this is an example of “convergent evolution”? Couldn’t it be an example of common design where the Creator uses the same design in unrelated organisms? It takes a lot of faith to believe that life could evolve from random chemicals by chance and even more faith to believe that brains could evolve through mistakes in the genetic code – and similar designs in totally unrelated organisms at that. I understand the idea behind homology pointing to close genetic relationships, but this is actually evidence that destroys that view. And the examples of homology that do NOT indicate common descent are extremely prevalent – so prevalent as to question the whole evolutionary paradigm. https://www.discovery.org/a/24041/ Problem #7 is Convergent Evolution (which in my mind does not even exist, but is rather a make believe type of evolution used to save the evolutionary paradigm from falsification.)

  6. “Humans might have evolved from apes” is a gross oversimplification of evolutionary theory. A better statement would be “humans are similar to apes due to a common ancestor” which would actually back up the points made about octopi even better.

    1. Technically we ARE apes – specifically great apes. We and our cousin primates chimps, bonobos, orangutans, and gorillas comprise the family Hominidae.

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