Tuesday, 8 October 2019

The Deeper These Octopuses Live, The Wartier Their Skin

Professor Louise Allcock, Head of Zoology at NUI Galway is a co-author of a new study that found octopuses from deeper in the ocean had warty skin compared to their shallower smooth-skinned counterparts, with DNA sequences revealing they were the same species despite looking so different. The study was led by The Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, and is published today (8 October 2019) in the international journal, Bulletin of Marine Science.  Deep beneath the ocean’s surface, surprisingly cute warty pink octopuses creep along the seafloor. But not all these octopuses look alike. While humans love a good “Is your skin oily, dry, or combination?” quiz, members of one octopus species take variations in skin texture to a whole new level. Some have outrageous warts, while others appear nearly smooth-skinned. Scientists weren’t sure if these octopuses were even members of the same species, and they didn’t know how to explain the differences in the animals’ looks. But in this new study, scientists cracked the case: the deeper in the ocean the octopuses live, the bumpier their skin and the smaller their bodies. DNA revealed that even though the octopuses looked different, they were the same species.  Co-author of the study, Professor Louise Allcock, Head of Zoology, Ryan Institute, NUI Galway, who analysed the DNA data, said: “We really weren’t sure what the DNA would tell us. Warty octopuses occur throughout the deep oceans of most of the world, including all the way down to the Antarctic, and there are real issues in determining the true number of species. From many locations we only have one or two specimens, because they live in really inaccessible habitats, so we had very little experience as to how much individuals of any given species might vary.”  Lead author, Janet Voight, Associate Curator of Zoology, Field Museum, said: “If I had only two of these animals that looked very different, I would say, ‘Well, they’re different species, for sure.’ But variation inside animal species can sometimes fool you. That’s why we need to look at multiple specimens of species to see, does that first reaction based on two specimens make sense?” To figure out if the smooth and warty octopuses were the same species, the scientists examined 50 specimens that were classified as Graneledone pacifica, the Pacific warty octopus. Plunging deep into the ocean in ALVIN, a human-occupied submersible vehicle, Voight collected some of the octopuses from the Northeast Pacific Ocean. The team also studied specimens loaned from the University of Miami Marine Laboratory and the California Academy of Sciences. They looked at specimens from up and down the Pacific, from as far north as Washington State to as far south as Monterey, California, and from depths ranging from 3,660 feet (1,100 metres) to more than 9,000 feet (2,700 metres) below the ocean’s surface. The researchers counted the number of warts in a line across each octopus’s back and its head and the number of suckers on their arms. They found that the octopuses from deeper in the ocean looked different from their shallower counterparts. The deep-sea specimens were smaller, with fewer arm suckers, and, most noticeably, bumpier skin than those from shallower depths. They found there weren’t two distinct groups; the animals’ appearances changed according to how deep they live. Comparing the octopuses’ DNA sequences revealed only minor differences, supporting the idea that they were all the same species, despite looking so different. Voight adds: “Sometimes when animals look different from each other, scientists can be tempted to jump the gun and declare them separate species, especially in the deep sea, where very little is known about animal life and scientists often don’t have many specimens to compare. But looking different doesn’t necessarily mean that animals are members of different species; take chihuahuas and Great Danes, which are both the same species of Canis lupus familiaris. Dogs’ different appearances are due to selective breeding by humans, but in the case of the warty octopuses in this study, their different appearances seem to result from environmental influences, because their appearance changes depending on where the octopuses are from.” Scientists aren’t sure why the variations in skin texture occur with depth. But they do have a hunch about the size difference. Voight thinks that these octopuses usually eat creatures from the sediment on the ocean floor, passing food from sucker to sucker and then crushing their prey like popcorn. “There’s less food as you get deeper in the ocean. So these animals have to work harder to find food to eat. And that means at the end of their lives, they’ll be smaller than animals who have more food. If you’re a female who’s going to lay eggs at the end of your life, maybe your eggs will be smaller”, says Voight. Smaller eggs mean smaller hatchlings.  Support for this hypothesis comes from the number of suckers on the males’ arm that transfers sperm packets to females. Earlier research by Voight found that male hatchlings have a full-formed arm with all its suckers in place. The researchers documented that the number of suckers on this arm was much smaller in males from greater depth, and Voight hypothesizes it relates to egg size. “The octopus hatchlings in shallower water, only 3,660 feet (1,100 metres), are bigger. Their eggs had more yolk. As the embryos grew, they developed farther inside the egg than the ones from 9,000 feet (2,700 metres), who were developing in smaller eggs. They had less energy to fuel their growth before they left the egg, so they made fewer suckers,” says Voight. Seeing these physical manifestations of octopuses’ food limitation provides a hint of how they might fare as climate change progresses and the octopuses’ food supply fluctuates. Voight notes that this study, which shows that different-looking octopuses can still be the same genetic species, could help researchers down the line trying to identify life forms in the deep sea. Remotely operated vehicles collect video footage of the ocean floor, and it can be used to estimate the number of species present, if known what they look like. That’s why, Voight says, it’s so important to examine specimens in person and use characteristics you can’t see on video to identify species boundaries. To read the full study in Bulletin of Marine Science, visit: https://doi.org/10.5343/bms.2019.0039 -Ends- 

News Archive

Monday, 7 October 2019

Following the recent announcement of newly appointed Business Professors at the J.E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics in NUI Galway, the Cairnes School and Whitaker Institute will host the ‘Inaugural Professors In Conversation Series’ featuring the new professors. Alma McCarthy, appointed Professor of Public Sector Management will open the series on Wednesday, 9 October and will talk about - Attracting, managing, developing and retaining talent in the Irish public sector. The lunchtime event is free and open to the public. Professor McCarthy will reflect on the key learnings from her research in public sector organisations in Ireland and discuss learnings from international best practice including how best to attract and develop senior leadership capability. She will identify a number of opportunities and challenges currently facing public sector organisations in relation to human resource and talent attraction, management and development. Some of these challenges include the need to be forward-thinking and plan strategically to meet the changing socio-demographic trends of the next generation of public sector employees. Alma will also discuss how current demographic and societal trends are impacting public sector human resource management as well as reflect on the likely future trends that public sector organisations must plan for including changes in employee preferences for how they work, the impact of technology and changes in career expectations.   Drawing on over 15 years of expertise in the public sector, Professor McCarthy will be in conversation with Tomás Ó Síocháin about her public sector research and work. Tomás is CEO of the Western Development Commission (WDC), the state agency tasked with advising the Government on policy for the West, and has experience in senior management positions in other public sector organisations.  Professor Alan Ahearne, Director, Whitaker Institute at NUI Galway, said: “We are delighted to launch this inaugural lecture series which will provide our newly appointed professors with the opportunity to engage students, colleagues and the general public in a frank discussion of issues that are crucially important for our country. The challenge facing the public sector to attract and retain talent is one such issue, with profound implications for our systems of health care, education, security and other areas of public administration.” Speaking about the event, Professor Alma McCarthy, NUI Galway, said: “I am honoured to have the opportunity to be in conversation with Tomás Ó Síocháin discussing my research in the area of public sector management. The delivery of public services for our citizens is contingent on the capability, commitment and competence of our public sector employees and leaders and their ability to innovate and lead change. In turn, the delivery of quality services to the public is dependent on how well public sector organisations attract, manage and develop their talent. I will focus on this important area.” Tomás Ó Síocháin, CEO, Western Development Commission, said: “Serving the public is a key challenge for public servants and for the public service. Changes in technology, the move towards a low carbon economy and the changing culture of work internationally are significant drivers of change. This is particularly the case for a sector that, at times, is seen as slow to change. In my experience, however, there is an appetite for change among leaders in the public service, and I very much look forward to hearing Professor McCarthy’s insights, and facilitating a broader conversation on this important topic.” The event will take place on Wednesday, 9 October from 1pm-2pm in Room CA110 in the Cairnes Building, North Campus, NUI Galway. To book the event, visit: https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/conversations-with-our-newly-appointed-professors-professor-alma-mccarthy-tickets-73785878549 -Ends-

Monday, 7 October 2019

As part of the ‘Spotlight on Research’ lecture series at NUI Galway’s College of Arts, Social Sciences, and Celtic Studies, a lecture will be given by recently elected member of the Royal Irish Academy, Professor Paolo Bartoloni on the topic ‘From “great” to violent: on contemporary art’.  The lecture will be held on Thursday, 31 October from 5-7pm, in room G011 in the Moore Institute. Professor Bartoloni will examine the question ‘How is art measured today, and is it possible to speak of contemporary art as “great”’? At the turn of the millennium many believed that art was simply commercially driven or its opposite, ephemeral. Postmodernism has often been blamed for the demise of “greatness” in art and the fading away of art’s enigma and complexity. And yet the postmodern bubble is supposed to have burst years ago, as far back as 2005, some believe. Professor Bartoloni will look at where are we, and what kind of parameters can be used to relate to contemporary art? And, does contemporary art still matter and has art turned from “great” to violent, yet violent to whom and for what purpose? By looking at a series of curatorial practices in the city of Florence, this lecture will rehearse some of these questions, focusing on the way in which local identity might be challenged and even violated by the assemblage of disparate art forms that bring about what the visual studies expert Nicholas Mirzoeff calls ‘neoculturation’. Dr Seán Crosson, Vice-Dean for Research in the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Celtic Studies at NUI Galway, said: “The Spotlight on Research series aims to highlight the world leading and ground-breaking research being undertaken across our College. Academics within the College have received national and international recognition for the research they are undertaking, including major awards and recognition such as the recent election of Professor Bartoloni as a member of the Royal Irish Academy, regarded as the highest academic honour in Ireland. This series provides a platform for us to recognise and bring these research achievements to the attention of both the academic community and the wider general public.” -Ends-

Monday, 7 October 2019

Minister of State at the Department of Education with special responsibility for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell-O’Connor recently launched the NUI Galway Schools of Sanctuary programme at Scoil Bhríde in Shantalla. The NUI Galway Schools of Sanctuary programme is an outreach component of the NUI Galway University of Sanctuary initiative and NUI Galway’s Access Centre. Universities and Schools of Sanctuary promote the welcoming of refugees, asylum seekers, Irish Travellers and other migrants into educational communities in meaningful ways. A School of Sanctuary is a school that is committed to creating a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment that benefits everybody, including anyone in its community who is seeking sanctuary. Promoting and celebrating cultural diversity as well as promoting pathways into higher education is a core element of the programme. “Everyone involved in this programme will become beacons in the community and act as Ambassadors that promote and celebrate cultural diversity in addition to progression into higher education” said Minister Mitchell O’Connor. The programme is highly inclusive and participatory which will empower every student. Furthermore, students will celebrate their own and others cultural identity. In addition, it intends to support increased access and participation in higher education by entrants from socio-economic groups that have low participation in higher education. The NUI Galway Schools of Sanctuary Coordinator Owen Ward said: “Through the collaboration with the Places of Sanctuary Movement, Ireland, the NUI Galway Access Centre and the participating NUI Galway Access linked schools, a sanctuary will be created for all within each school that will ensure a levelling of the playing field for everyone. This programme will positively impact approximately 1,500 students this year.” Principals from Our Lady’s College, St Marys College, and Scoil Bhríde National School signed the commitment pledge to begin the process of becoming a designated NUI Galway School of Sanctuary.  The launch coincides with NUI Galway’s designation as the sixth third level institution in the country to be designated as a University of Sanctuary. -Ends-

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