Octopuses are weird. Some would say even out of this world. And if you can't explain something it might as well be aliens, right?
That's what a mindbogglingly controversial paper in the journal Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology has claimed. It says octopuses (not octopi) are so complex, they can only be explained by extraterrestrial life. Spoiler: they can't.
The paper includes a whopping 33 researchers (although notably zero zoologists) including a chap called Chandra Wickramasinghe. He's a proponent of the idea of directed panspermia – that life on our planet began when it was seeded by alien microbes – and he pops up a lot. He’s tried to prove it in the past, without success. There is no evidence for such a theory being true.
That hasn’t stopped this latest paper being written, which asks whether the Cambrian explosion was “terrestrial or cosmic”. The Cambrian explosion was an event 500 million years ago when complex animals started to appear in the fossil record. We’re not sure why, but it’s probably not aliens.
Anyway, back to the aliens. In their paper the team say that the arrival of alien microbes probably kickstarted the Cambrian explosion, with the diversification ending with the evolution of the octopus. Makes sense.
“The genome of the Octopus shows a staggering level of complexity,” they note, adding that features like its large brain and camera-like eyes “appear suddenly on the evolutionary scene.”
Why? Because, aliens, of course. Have you even been reading this article? “The evolution from squid to octopus is compatible with a suite of genes inserted by extraterrestrial viruses,” the researchers write.
But wait, there’s more. Because maybe it wasn’t just microbes, right? Yes, there’s another explanation, namely that the octopus eggs were cryopreserved by a comet and delivered to our planet. Maybe squid too.
“The possibility that cryopreserved Squid and/or Octopus eggs, arrived in icy bolides several hundred million years ago should not be discounted,” the paper notes.
The paper continues. At one point they argue that we are on the doorstep of “one of the biggest back-flips in history” regarding how life emerged on our planet, comparing it to the idea of continental drift once being discounted.
Let's see what some experts had to say about all this. Here’s what Mark Carnall from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History thought.
Ah okay. Anyone else? Here’s Seth Finnegan, Assistant Professor at the University of California, Berkeley in evolution, geology, and paleoecology.
And here’s Jonathan Eisen, Professor at the Department of Evolution and Ecology at the University of California, Davis.
There is no evidence octopuses came from space. Have a good Tuesday.