How does a sophisticated brain develop? The ontogeny of brain complexity in Octopus vulgaris
Octopuses are one of the strangest and most intriguing boneless animals on our planet. They are capable of opening jars, regrowing amputated arms, solving problems and each has its own personality. Nevertheless, how and why the octopus could develop such a complex brain - almost as complex as that of a dog - is still a big mystery. By comparing known building plans of model organisms like fruit flies and mice to how octopus brains develop, we aim to unravel how particular organisms manage to build a complex brain. In the last couple of years, novel technologies have added a new level of (molecular) detail to our understanding of simple versus complex brain development. Until now, neurobiological research on octopus often focused on behavioural experiments in adult animals, demonstrating their cognitive capacity. In this project, we will for the first time apply molecular sequencing and imaging technologies to the early stages of brain development in octopus, to unravel whether conserved or innovative mechanisms lead to the formation of complex brains. This evolutionary perspective could help to better understand neurodevelopmental disorders as well as aid regenerative medicine.