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Octopus Eggs Need Helpful Bacteria to Stay Healthy, Too

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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We’re just learning how important certain microbes can be to our own health. They can help us digest foods and protect us from harmful invaders.

New research suggests that certain bacteria are also crucial for octopuses—especially when they’re just starting out. The findings were published online in Aquaculture Research earlier this month.

A team of Chilean scientists found that healthy octopus eggs shared certain major bacterial profiles. Diseased eggs, for example, had a preponderance of y-proteobacteria, whereas healthy eggs had a large number of Roseobacter. Bacteroidetes were found in both types of eggs but in a higher proportion in unwell eggs. (If you’ve been keeping up with news about the human microbiome Bacteroidetes might sound familiar—its kind are common inhabitants of our own guts.)

Earlier studies found that octopus eggs are colonized by bacteria within hours of being fertilized inside the female and that, like our own bodies, colonization by a diverse field of non-pathogenic bacteria may protect against pathogenic ones coming in later. And, indeed, the researchers behind the new study found that compared with diseased eggs, healthy eggs had a much more diverse population of bacteria living on them.

The results “suggest that there might be some sort of relationship between octopus eggs’ associated bacterial community and egg health,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

The work was done in the Chilean octopus (Octopus mimus), a species that researchers are working hard to grow commercially. Previously, researchers have looked into water temperature, yolk usage and other more obvious factors when trying to best raise these animals in captivity. The new findings point to a tactic for rearing octopus eggs in captivity that may be new to aquaculture—but is familiar to us humans these days: probiotics.

Rather than in yogurt or kefir, however, for the eggs, the best bacteria might be found in octopus mucus. Yum.

Read more about surprisingly odd octopus reproduction–in Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature In the Sea.

Illustration courtesy of Ivan Phillipsen


Katherine Harmon Courage About the Author: Katherine Harmon Courage is a freelance writer and contributing editor for Scientific American. Her book Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature In the Sea is out now from Penguin/Current. Follow on Twitter @KHCourage.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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