Trending Science: Do octopuses come from outer space?

A scientific paper claims that these wondrously smart undersea animals are actually aliens brought to Earth by meteors.

Admit it. If you’ve read this far, you’re intrigued, aren’t you? But wait, it gets better from here. How about frozen octopus eggs riding a meteor to Earth 540 million years ago?

A paper published in the journal ‘Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology’ looked into the origins of life here on our planet. A team of no less than 33 researchers explored several theories. The one that catches the eye is that cephalopods, namely squid, octopus and cuttlefish, may have originated from somewhere other than Earth.

Octopuses and their alien DNA

“Evidence of the role of extraterrestrial viruses in affecting terrestrial evolution has recently been plausibly implied in the gene and transcriptome sequencing of Cephalopods,” they explain in the study. “The genome of the Octopus shows a staggering level of complexity with 33 000 protein-coding genes more than is present in Homo sapiens.”

And here’s the pièce de résistance: “The transformative genes leading from the consensus ancestral Nautilus […] to the common Cuttlefish […] to Squid […] to the common Octopus […] are not easily to be found in any pre-existing life form – it is plausible then to suggest they seem to be borrowed from a far distant ‘future’ in terms of terrestrial evolution, or more realistically from the cosmos at large.”

They offer the possibility that today’s octopuses are the descendants of creatures that arrived on Earth frozen in an icy comet. Why the octopus in particular? “Its large brain and sophisticated nervous system, camera-like eyes, flexible bodies, instantaneous camouflage via the ability to switch colour and shape are just a few of the striking features that appear suddenly on the evolutionary scene.” This terrestrial evolution occurred thanks to “cryopreserved squid and/or octopus eggs” crashing into the ocean on comets “several hundred million years ago.”

The researchers also give another explanation. An extraterrestrial virus infected a population of early squid, causing them to evolve rapidly into the octopuses we know today.

Octopuses from space? Not so fast

Unsurprisingly, scientists have been quick to refute the claims. “There’s no question, early biology is fascinating – but I think this, if anything, is counterproductive,” Ken Stedman, an American virologist and professor of biology at Portland State University, told the news website ‘Live Science’. “Many of the claims in this paper are beyond speculative, and not even really looking at the literature.”

Yet others weren’t so tactful when describing the study. In her commentary published in the same journal, Karin Mölling, a virologist at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Germany, concluded that the findings “cannot be taken seriously.”

It’s safe to say this won’t be the last time the scientific community resurrects the theory that life arrived from far-away worlds and gave birth to some or all of the life forms on Earth. When three dozen or so scientists from universities and institutes around the world now come out to build on those claims and attract global media coverage doing so, is it at least worth thinking about?

last modification: 2018-06-01

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