October 2017    
         
         
 
     
     
 
     
  Welcome to µChicago, a new monthly newsletter that offers a glimpse into the labs, fields, and minds of UChicago scientists, mathematicians, and engineers.
--Maureen Searcy
Editor, µChicago

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  Three's a crowd  
     
     
  A marine love triangle offers a glimpse into cephalopod intelligence.  
     
     
 
A cuttlefish defends his mate.
 
 
     
  Sepia apama or Australian giant cuttlefish (Photography by Roger Hanlon)  
     
 
     
     
  Fierce battles over potential mates conjure scenes of rams smashing horns and lions clawing to dominance. But cuttlefish?  
     
     
  A video, filmed by a former Marine Biological Laboratory grad student, shows a male and female mating and then swimming together--the cuttle version of cuddling.  
     
     
  The male is actually guarding his mate, which proves necessary when a rival male suddenly makes a move, employing the ol' stiff-arm technique when the original consort doesn't give up. There's some ink, some dilated pupils, some flashing skin colors, and a few barrel rolls.  
     
     
  The MBL team, led by senior scientist Roger Hanlon, compared this wild show of aggression with what they'd seen in captivity to determine that cuttlefish aren't just thinking with their tentacles. Their behavior fits the "mutual assessment" model of game theory, implying a higher level of cognitive ability.  
     
     
   
     
     
  Cephalopods--cuttlefish, octopuses, and squid--are scary smart. Like, welcome-our-new-cephalopod-overlords smart. (Their cousin, the nautilus, isn't so bright. Sorry, nautilus.)  
     
     
  They also have several traits that make them valuable research subjects, like their ability to regenerate arms, which provides insights for regenerative biology and tissue engineering.  
     
     
  An octopus's ability to squeeze through the tiniest of openings is of great interest to soft robotics engineers, who could create medical robots to slip through tiny body incisions, reassemble inside, and perform surgery. Cephalopods also have large neurons, making them particularly compelling to neurobiologists.  
     
     
  All of these traits, along with the goal of having multigenerational genetic models, are why MBL is prioritizing a cephalopod culture, building a "cephalopod empire," as MBL's new manager of cephalopod operations calls it. This work is part of MBL's larger strategic focus on developing novel aquatic model organisms for biological and biomedical research.  
     
 
     
 
         
         
    Spotlight    
         
         
 
     
     
  Octopus adorabilis  
     
     
   
     
     
  This fist-sized deep-sea octopus with big eyes and gelatinous skin is adorable. And nameless. Stephanie Bush of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, who figured out in 2015 that this little blob was a brand new species, is working to classify and name it, proposing--at first jokingly--Opisthoteuthis adorabilis. But "taxonomy moves at the speed of molasses," she says, so it won't be official for a few more years.  
     
 
     
  More about cephalopods  
     
     
 
     
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They can edit their own genetic code on the fly.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
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They can disguise themselves using color, pattern, and 3-D skin texture camouflage.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
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Cuttlefish have eight arms, two tentacles, and three hearts.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
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Squid communicate with a secret skin alphabet.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
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The Humboldt squid is tracked by scientists with the help of John Steinbeck.
 
     
     
     
     
 
     
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