Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Speaking of Science: A brief history of squid work

Speaking of Science
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A euprymna scolopes, also known as a Hawaiian bobtail squid, is photographed in a tank at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., on January 22, 2019.

I recently wrote about a plan to raise octopuses and their relatives at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts. Though this program is fairly new, squid have played an important role in research for almost a century. Here's a little bit of the history to this science:

Before World War II, scientists at the Naples Zoological Station, perched on the Mediterranean coast, received a steady squid supply from fishermen. There, Italian physiologist Enrico Sereni pioneered the study of the cephalopod nervous system until his death, at 30, in a bathtub in 1931. (Sereni's biographers who suggest foul play note his ties to the Italian anti-fascist movement.)

After Sereni's untimely demise, his collaborator, John Zachary Young, pressed on. Young extracted a squid's motor neuron, a giant nerve fiber thick with conducting jelly, and recorded its electric function. In the 1950s, physiologists Alan L. Hodgkin and Andrew F. Huxley inserted electrodes into the squid neuron and measured the voltages and currents that coursed through the nervous system. This discovery, and their mathematical explanations for it, won them a Nobel Prize in 1963.

Scientists continue to use the same species as Hodgkin and Huxley did, such as the longfin inshore squid, which cannot be bred in captivity and must be caught wild. A Marine Biological Laboratory ship, the Gemma, fishes for them from May to early December.


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