Natural versus technological evolution: Cephalopods as emerging models for Neuroscience, Biorobotics and AI
Speaker: Dr. Letizia Zullo Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), Genoa, Italy
Date: 30 March 2017 Time: 11:00 – 13:00
Location: "Stelios Orphanoudakis" Seminar Room, FORTH, Heraklion, Crete
Host: Dr. Dimitris Tsakiris, ICS-FORTH


Cephalopods are the most intelligent animals among invertebrates. They not only have a brain with a number of neurons up to that of small mammals, but their intelligence relies also upon ‘smart’ arms. Nowadays, octopuses are inspiring research in every field, from biology to robotics and from neuroscience to high technology.

With its large brain and its clever problem-solving capabilities, the octopus appears to be very different from all other animals. Its central brain retains a typical invertebrate organization, but it is specialized for high integration function and has a unique non-somatotopic arrangement. Moreover, 2/3 of the animal nervous cells are located in the arms, that can work relatively autonomously. This organization has profound implications for the motor control strategy that the animal has evolved. Indeed, octopuses are renowned for their dexterous manipulation capabilities and strength, despite their lack of a skeletal supportive structure.

In this talk, I will present current investigations on the octopus motor control, from central brain control strategies to arm biomechanics. I will show how the lack of somatotopy might have been a benefit for controlling its flexible arms with a highly developed sensory system. As the octopus is an interesting model, not only from a biological viewpoint, but also from a robotic perspective, I will show the main achievements and future challenges towards the exploitation of this animal ‘full of surprises’ for biorobotics and AI.


Dr. Letizia Zullois a Researcher at the Neuroscience and Brain Technology Department of the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Genoa, Italy. She received the MS degree in Biological Sciences in 2001, and the PhD in Applied Biology in 2004, both from the Federico II University of Naples. She was a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Neurobiology of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, from 2005 to 2007. She is an expert in cephalopods and, in particular, in octopus physiology, morphology, kinematics and behavior. She is experienced in the in-vivo study of the octopus central and peripheral nervous system, in the analysis of the brain / behavior relation, and in culturing invertebrate/vertebrate neurons and muscle cells. Currently, she is investigating the mechanisms of octopus arm muscle functions with parallel approaches such as molecular biology, biophysics and high resolution morphology investigations. She is the author of several journal and conference publications, and a participant in several EU projects, related to her research interests.

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