“Release the Kraken!”
From Liam Neeson’s snarling lips as Zeus in the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans, it’s truly one of the most famous unintentionally funny quotes in the history of film. It also brought fame and fear to one of the most mysterious creatures of the sea – the giant squid. Known now to reach up to 13 meters (43 ft) in length, they have long been misidentified as sea monsters and were the probable inspiration for the Kraken of Norse sagas. The appearance of a giant squid on the surface or the shore of the ocean is considered by many cultures to be a harbinger of bad news, usually tsunamis or earthquakes. Now, modern science may help clarify the creature’s true nature with the announcement that its genome has been sequenced. Will some mad movie-loving scientist use it to create a monster just so he can say, “Release the Kraken!”?
“A genome is a first step for answering a lot of questions about the biology of these very weird animals.”
Caroline Albertin isn’t mad – she works for the Marine Biological Laboratory at the University of Chicago and was part of a University of Copenhagen-led team that assembled the genome of the giant squid (Architeuthis dux). In a report published recently in GigaScience, Albertin and the team describe the unusual characteristics of the genome of these unusual creatures. For one thing, the giant squid has an estimated 2.7 billion DNA base pairs, making its about 90 percent the size of the human genome. While not implying we humans are closer to giant squids than we thought, the genome does shed light on how they got their giant brains.
"Protocadherins are thought to be important in wiring up a complicated brain correctly. They were thought they were a vertebrate innovation, so we were really surprised when we found more than 100 of them in the octopus genome (in 2015). That seemed like a smoking gun to how you make a complicated brain. And we have found a similar expansion of protocadherins in the giant squid, as well."
Giant squids are definitely related to the equally mysterious and giant-brained octopus and protocadherins are genes typically not found in invertebrates. More mysteries about the giant squid may be explained by the genome, including how they became such giants and how they can survive in hostile deep-sea environments but not at the surface nor in captivity.
Will knowing more about the genome of the giant squid put an end to fictional accounts of monster squids such as those in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea? Let’s hope not. Will it put an end to the legends of the Kraken? Not as long as there is a Liam Neeson or actors who strive to be the next Liam Neeson. Will a mad scientist use the genome to create a real-life Kraken to release? That’s not beyond the realm of possibilities and it might make a better plot.
“Release the Kraken movies!”