Research by UWIN faculty member David Gire and emeritus UWIN post-baccalaureate fellow Dominic Sivitilli is featured on Science Friday as part of the Cephalopod Week spotlight! Science Friday is a weekly radio show distributed by WNYC and is available in podcast format for listening.
Gire and Sivitilli’s research focuses on the unique spread of neurons over the body of the octopus. In a human, the brain houses most of the sensing and decision making neurons, but in an octopus the eight arms contains two-thirds of these neurons. This distribution changes how the octopus can process decisions. In a classical distribution of neural activity, a central location, usually a brain, collects external information and makes decisions for the entire animal. Conversely, in an octopus, each neuron-heavy section of a tentacle makes many minor decisions independently, which may not necessarily agree with the decisions of other tentacles. By tracking the movement of each section of tentacle, researchers can draw insight from this neuron distribution.
Future research combines three dimensional tracking of tentacle movement with real-time neurological data from an implant in the octopus’s brain. This exploration will help determine how octopuses control their arms, or to what extent their arms work independently. The researchers hope that the observation can bring light to how a different neural structure can affect the sensory capabilities of a creature.