Today I Learned: this tentacle monster, it deserves a Nobel Prize!
Today I Learned: this tentacle monster, it deserves a Nobel Prize!
Want to study neural signals? Have a big squid.

when you stir-fry squid flowers, roast squid, bomb big squid, cook squid that are delicious in any way, you may notice that after cutting open their soft bodies, you can find two thin fibers, which are the giant nerve axons of squid. A great hero in the history of neuroscience.

in the early 20th century, electrophysiologists who studied the nervous system were worried that they could not find suitable experimental materials to test the information transmission of nerve cells: the nervous system was too complex and it was difficult for nerve bundles like the spinal cord to be separated into a single root. Nerves are usually at the μ m level, and it is impossible to insert electrodes under the technical conditions at that time. In the experiment of action potential, two electrodes need to be put in to counteract the current effect caused by the opening of two molecular switches on the cell membrane. The research was in trouble for a time.

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fortunately, the tentacle blamed squid saved them. In the 1930s, British zoologist John Young discovered the giant nerve axons of squid. Squid is one of the fastest swimmers in the sea, and giant nerves that run through the body trigger a muscle response that pushes itself forward. Their giant nerve axons are as thick as 1mm and can be seen with the naked eye. Although it still sounds fine, it is 1000 times different from the nerves of normal experimental animals, which is enough to put two thin electrodes to do an action potential experiment. Happiness came so suddenly that all the relevant researchers began to experiment with squid. Two scientists from England, A.Hodgkin and A.Huxley, summed up the famous Hodgkin-Huxley model and won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1963. Hodgkin even joked that their Nobel Prize should be given to squid.

and among them, a species of American red squid (jumbo Humboldt squid) from Chile even gave birth to a laboratory on its own. This squid is 1.5 meters long and weighs 40 to 50 kilograms. Its huge nerve axons are as thick as a strand of spaghetti (I know there are many kinds of spaghetti, which refers to the most common kind). It is far better than other squid in measuring potassium channels. Due to the lack of effective guarantee of the freshness of squid during transportation, relying on the origin of squid was a great advantage for the laboratory, which gave way to the Montmar laboratory in Chile and became a world-class electrophysiology laboratory at that time.

but only ten years later, probably due to the influence of El Ni ñ o and ocean acidification, it was difficult for fishermen to catch squid in the summer of 1970. After the squid mysteriously disappeared in Chilean waters, scientists left Chile and the laboratory declined.

after that, although the invention of patch clamp technology in the late 1970s reduced the requirement for the thickness of experimental nerves, the squid still outperformed other squid in measuring potassium channels. After the squid was rediscovered in Northern California in 2008, scientists raised hopes that they wanted to revive their once-glorious laboratory.

if there were no squid, would the study of the nervous system slow down? I have no idea. But in that case, it will probably be more difficult for doctoral students in this field to graduate.

always think that electrophysiologists must have eaten squid until they never eat it again.

think of some strange foods: "it takes 50 giant nerve axons from American squid to stir-fry a plate of fried noodles."

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the cool scientific PS:

the cover picture is an American red squid, photo source: Steve Bloom Images /Alamy