Jan. 16 (UPI) -- For the first time, scientists have successfully sequenced and annotated the genome of the giant squid -- the real-life inspiration for the Kraken, the sea monster mythologized for dragging shipping vessels to the bottom of the ocean.
The giant squid, Architeuthis dux, was first identified by Danish naturalist Japetus Steenstrup in 1857. Scientists estimate the species can grow to more than 42 feet in length and tip the scales at nearly 2,000 pounds.
Recently, researchers captured video footage of a giant squid in the Gulf of Mexico, but no live specimens have ever been captured. During the last century-and-a-half, scientists have managed to collect just a handful of specimens. Most of the samples are old and decaying, stored in jars of formalin or ethanol in museums.
Some samples have yielded enough DNA to confirm the giant squid as a single species, but none have featured enough high-quality DNA necessary to produce a useful genome assembly -- that is, until now.
Scientists at the University of Copenhagen were lucky enough to receive a freshly frozen tissue sample of a giant squid captured by a fishing vessel off the coast of New Zealand.
The sample featured enough quality DNA to produce a "genomic draft" -- the best sequenced and annotated giant squid genome yet to published.
By studying the genome and comparing it to the genomes of other cephalopods, scientists hope to gain new insights into the biology and evolutionary history of the giant squid.
"These new results may unlock several pending evolutionary questions regarding this mantled species," lead researcher Rute da Fonseca, an associate professor with the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the Globe Institute of the University of Copenhagen, said in a news release.
Researchers published the genomic draft Thursday in the journal GigaScience.
"This annotated draft genome of A. dux provides a critical resource to investigate the unique traits of this species, including its gigantism and key adaptations to deep-sea environments," researchers wrote in their paper.