Octopus Helps Make Smarter Prosthetics

Research with octopus limb regeneration helps scientists create smart prosthetics.
Inside Science Contributor

(Inside Science) -- Galit Pelled is a professor of biomedical engineering, radiology and neuroscience at Michigan State University. One of her many research interests involves marine animals and their ability to regenerate their own limbs. 

"There are 230,000 marine creatures and we don't know a lot about them. So my lab has been interested in understanding how nervous system of octopus works.

"Octopus is amazing in many ways. It has three hearts. It has blue blood. And it also regenerates many parts of its body. So, there's a lot of interest in octopus research about how it regenerates. 

"People are developing robotic prosthetic arms that can move in many ways, quite similar to what a human hand can do. But still we don't have ways to have prosthetic arms that are adaptive, that are flexible, that can change the direction midway. An octopus can do that.

"So, octopus has 500 million neurons. The majority of neurons are in the arms. And each arm is a completely independent unit. Each arm has something like a brain in it. The octopus makes most of its decision in the arm -- it tastes in the arm, it thinks in the arm -- what we would consider things that we would do in our brain, octopus a lot of time does it in the arms.

"The octopus is really an amazing model to learn a lot -- how it calculates, the algorithms that it uses in the arm and how we could potentially translate into developing a new type of robots, a new type of prosthetics that will move flexible and be adaptive like an octopus arm.

"We record our octopus, each octopus in the tank 24/7. So we gather a lot of data about octopus behavior, the way he moves.

"So together, all the data we're going to gather, all the way from a single cell to electrophysiology, to motion capture, to the entire behavior of the octopus -- we're hoping to identify the algorithms and the principles that can predict and explain how the octopus arm moves. And then we will take these algorithms and we'll feed it into a new type of a soft robotic octopus arm, which we hope will move and be adaptable.

"There is a lot to learn from marine creatures. And understanding how different organisms develop completely different type of strategies to resolve different challenges that they have is just bound to fuel a whole new field of neuroscience and impact medicine," concluded Pelled.

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