Researchers from the University of Bonn in Germany have described a new species of cephalopods without dissecting the organism. They used several recording techniques for this.
A precious specimen
The story begins in the summer of 2016: Dr. Alexander Ziegler, co-author of a new study published April 23, 2021 in the journal BMC biology, is aboard the research ship SONNE near the North Pacific. The crew is trying to extract samples of sediment, rocks, but also living organisms in the deep sea. This is how the cephalopod is discovered: 30 centimeters high, it was found at a depth of 4,000 meters. It is the octopus Dumbo, as the Anglo-Saxons call the cephalopods of the genus Grimpoteuthis. Dumbo octopuses have 45 species of octopuses named after the character of Walt Disney. In fact, their fins resemble the two ears of a flying elephant.
A sample extracted from SONNE was photographed, Dr. Ziegler took a biopsy and then put it in formalin. Unfortunately, it is impossible to keep this cephalopod alive on the surface of the water, because its organism is too accustomed to the seabed. However, Dr. Ziegler and his student no longer invasively touched the animal. A surprising fact in describing the new species: the scalpels remained in drawers.
“This octopus is very valuable, so we looked for a non-destructive method“to study it,” notes the researcher in Statement.
© Alexander Ziegler
Shooting techniques instead of scalpels
Thus, in order to study the cephalopod with its preservation, the researchers placed it in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system located at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Bonn. In this way, a high-resolution 3D scan could be performed. A method that allows the study of soft tissues and organs with impressive precision. However, he did not allow the beak and radula (a kind of rough tongue) of cephalopods to be seen. Therefore, the researchers also used X-ray microtomography, a imaging technique that allows the reconstruction of the sample structure in 3D and without destruction. To do so, they visited paleontologists from the University of Bonn, equipped to perform this recording method. Finally, the authors of this new study used biopsy to perform genetic analyzes.
Organs seen in color thanks to an interactive 3D model. © Alexander Ziegler
Conclusion: this is definitely part of the genre Grimpoteuthis. Different shooting techniques revealed that it was an adult male with about 70 tits on each tentacle. Scientists suggest naming this new species Emperor Grimpoteuthis, this one was discovered near an underwater mountain range whose peaks are named after Japanese emperors.
The cephalopod is kept in the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin. “There it can then still be analyzed in 100 years, for example when more modern methods of study emerge or when new questions arise.“, rejoices Alexander Ziegler. A digital copy of the animal, for its part, is available to the scientific community at all times.