This particular squid species isn’t amenable to being raised to maturity in the lab—it’s just too big. But there are plenty of other, smaller squid and octopus species, and the team is already working to transfer the technology to the ones they’re cultivating in captivity. The researchers are also looking to add in genes, rather than just knocking out existing ones.
The work has thrilled other squid biologists like Sarah McAnulty of the University of Connecticut. She’s studied the Hawaiian bobtail squid, and says researchers have tried to genetically alter cephalopods in the past.
“It’s incredibly impressive that they’ve gotten it to work and this is a huge advancement for cephalopod researchers all over the world,” says McAnulty. “We should all be popping bottles of champagne. This is amazing.”
When biologists study natural squid, eventually they “hit something of a wall of understanding,” because they can’t play around with the animal’s genetics to explore how its systems work at the most basic level, says McAnulty. She believes the ability to genetically modify cephalopods should make all kinds of novel experiments possible.
“If I could do anything, I would totally start playing around with the immune system of the squid,” says McAnulty, to try to figure out how, say, the Hawaiian bobtail squid knows not to attack a kind of glowing, symbiotic bacteria that lives inside it.