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Space Science

Did Octopuses Come From Outer Space? 256

A scientific paper, originally published in March, from peer-reviewed journal Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology has found its way in this week's news-cycle. The paper, which is co-written by 33 authors including molecular immunologist Edward Steele and astrobiologist Chandra Wickramasinghe, suggests that octopuses could be aliens, adding legitimacy to a belief, which otherwise has been debunked several times in the recent years.

An excerpt from the paper, which makes the bold claim: The genetic divergence of Octopus from its ancestral coleoid sub-class is very great ... Its large brain and sophisticated nervous system, camera-like eyes, flexible bodies, instantaneous camouflage via the ability to switch color and shape are just a few of the striking features that appear suddenly on the evolutionary scene. [...] It is plausible then to suggest they [octopuses] seem to be borrowed from a far distant 'future' in terms of terrestrial evolution, or more realistically from the cosmos at large."Ephrat Livni of Quartz questions the basis of the finding: To make matters even more strange, the paper posits that octopuses could have arrived on Earth in "an already coherent group of functioning genes within (say) cryopreserved and matrix protected fertilized octopus eggs." And these eggs might have "arrived in icy bolides several hundred million years ago." The authors admit, though, that "such an extraterrestrial origin...of course, runs counter to the prevailing dominant paradigm." Indeed, few in the scientific community would agree that octopuses come from outer space. But the paper is not just about the provenance of cephalopods. Its proposal that octopuses could be extraterrestrials is just a small part of a much more extensive discussion of a theory called "panspermia," which has its roots in the ideas of ancient Greece. Newsweek spoke with Avi Loeb, the Frank B. Baird Jr. Professor of Science at Harvard University, who told the publication that the paper has raised "an interesting but controversial possibility." However, he added, that it offers no "indisputable proof" that the Cambrian explosion is the result of panspermia.

Further reading: Cosmos magazine has outlined some flaws in the assumptions that the authors made in the paper. It has also looked into the background of some of the authors. The magazine also points out that though the paper has made bold claims, it has yet to find support or corroboration from the scientific community. News outlet Live Science has also questioned the findings.
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Did Octopuses Come From Outer Space?

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  • No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by jawtheshark ( 198669 ) * <slashdot.jawtheshark@com> on Sunday May 20, 2018 @05:22PM (#56643994) Homepage Journal
    No. Next question!
    • Re:No. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Esteanil ( 710082 ) on Sunday May 20, 2018 @05:29PM (#56644028) Homepage Journal

      Seconded. Chandra Wickramasinghe is a one-trick pony whose answer to absolutely everything is panspermia. (life from space)

      • Chandra Wickramasinghe was a very handy right arm fast-medium bowler however.

        Oh, wait, that was Pramodya Wickramasinghe.

        Sorry.

      • Re: NO (Score:5, Insightful)

        by thomst ( 1640045 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @12:25AM (#56645326) Homepage

        The real question is, "Did Slashdot's editors come from the Weekly World News ... ?"

      • Re:No. (Score:5, Informative)

        by conquistadorst ( 2759585 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @09:35AM (#56646554)

        Seconded. Chandra Wickramasinghe is a one-trick pony whose answer to absolutely everything is panspermia. (life from space)

        You're not kidding. Not that I doubt panspermia is technically possible, but cryopreserved and matrix protected fertilized octopus eggs? ... I'm trying to picture octopuses gently laying eggs deep inside a bunch of rocks, getting fertilized, frozen, getting hit with an asteroid but not getting destroyed during impact, impacted with such force it throws these rocks up into space, surviving a million/billion-year journey with no degradation in their structure or DNA, surviving yet another asteroid impact this time hitting Earth, and landing on a planet with the same life conditions as their home planet? I'm sorry but I'm finding Noah's ark to be far less challenging to believe than this story.

        • Off the cuff, here is a possibility:

          You assume it was an accident that the eggs were cryopreserved, etc. What if it was a deliberate act to preserve or perpetuate a species but:

          a) The "matrix" degraded over the journey resulting in a mutant reconstitution
          b) The "matrix" was purposefully crippled in order to give already present life a chance to adapt to it before it was allowed to evolve
          c) The "matrix" was meant to integrate into currently available "matrices"

          I am obviously not a biologist or any kind of ex

        • It would have to land in water and break open such that the eggs didn't get destroyed. Melting inside the rock does no good.

          A long wearing away process that stopped right as the eggs melted without destroying them might work, but is also a long shot. Shouldn't these be everywhere?

      • by arth1 ( 260657 )

        Wickwrackrum has been thoroughly debunked here on /. before - this is just his latest manifestation of his idee fixe. As headlines go, this is of "Elvis abducted my space baby" quality.

    • Holy shit... you read my MIND! Thatâ(TM)s totally what I was going to post, verbatim, letter. for. letter.

      Wait... are YOU from space, maybe?
    • No. Next question!

      And if they seem alien with some separate evolutions they could be "aliens" from the deep sea, that evolved dowb there and then evolved back to being able to live higher in the ocean.

    • I agree, no. You would have to say that Cuddle fish came from space too, along with other Octopus-like creatures. Not to mention that Cuddle fish are more intelligent than the Octopus, I mean, what would that say about alien life-forms? =p

    • by doggo ( 34827 )

      That's what they (the octopuses) want you to think.

  • Will anybody speak for the Calamari?

    Or even the Cuttlefish...

  • I don't get it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by quantaman ( 517394 ) on Sunday May 20, 2018 @05:58PM (#56644118)

    How does this get through peer review with 33 co-authors? I didn't even take a University level biology course and I can tell it's BS.

    We can look at the DNA and RNA of Octupuses, we can tell we share common ancestors, if Octopuses came from another planet that would be really really obvious.

    WTF? Do they think some Aliens abducted some cuttlefish, cloned them, and then dropped them back on the planet in Octopus form before heading on their way?

    • this is what the octopuses told me: DNA is Do Not Argue (with us). RNA is Really? Not Again! and, yes, some of them are cloned. it lessens the amount of HR diversity training.
    • We can look at the DNA and RNA of Octupuses, we can tell we share common ancestors, if Octopuses came from another planet that would be really really obvious.

      I don't think they were trying to suggest that ONLY octopi came from another planet. When I saw an article a few weeks back, they were arguing that the explosion into multicellular life may have come from space.

      Since there's no way to either prove or disprove it, it's not science, whether true or false, so it hardly matters.

      • by meglon ( 1001833 )
        Yeh, wasn't it they were suggesting that the Cambrian explosion was the results of panspermia or something? Or am i confusing this with something from a couple years ago....
    • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Baloroth ( 2370816 ) on Sunday May 20, 2018 @06:15PM (#56644176)

      The theory would be that all life on Earth derives somewhat from this extra-terrestrial seeding, and that octopuses are simply a manifestation of the sudden appearance of complex properties previously unobserved which were derived from the seeding. That at least has some plausibility, in that it cannot be easily falsified. Or at least I think that'd be the theory, the linked "paper" is rather long and I'm not going to waste my time reading it thoroughly (although I question any "paper" that has in one section a direct quotation from wikipedia on tardigrades...).

      That said, pansperia is a load of crap: it explains nothing about the origin of life (even if life didn't originate on Earth, it had to originate somewhere, can't be turtles all the way down), has little or no scientific motivation (organic molecules are not life), and is (IMO) only really exists at all as a "theory" because it appeals to the sci-fi fan in many scientists.

      • The theory would be that all life on Earth derives somewhat from this extra-terrestrial seeding, and that octopuses are simply a manifestation of the sudden appearance of complex properties previously unobserved which were derived from the seeding. That at least has some plausibility, in that it cannot be easily falsified.

        There's a wisdom to the phrase "use it or lose it". Traits that aren't actively selected for tend to get broken by genetic drift. It would be really hard to implant some Octopus genes in the initial seeding and just have them manifest in operational order in one tiny branch.

        That said, pansperia is a load of crap: it explains nothing about the origin of life (even if life didn't originate on Earth, it had to originate somewhere, can't be turtles all the way down), has little or no scientific motivation (organic molecules are not life), and is (IMO) only really exists at all as a "theory" because it appeals to the sci-fi fan in many scientists.

        I wouldn't entirely agree.

        So right now we have a decent idea for how life could have started, primordial soup and all that. And it seems fairly plausible, but it's also a result of us saying "life began on Earth, this is the most plausib

        • by dryeo ( 100693 )

          Why couldn't life have started on Venus and migrated here? Best guesses are that Venus was habitable for its first couple of billion of years of existence and it probably had oceans etc much like Earth.

          • While not utterly provably impossible, the Venus hypothesis does not provide us with anything useful. It basically presumes that life could have developed on Earth and maybe conditions were good enough over on Venus earlier, and life hitchhiked over with that billion year head start. Well, if we already are presuming that life could have developed here, then why complicate things without an iota of actual evidence pointing towards the more convoluted path?

          • Venus has an atmosphere nearly 100 times as dense as the earth, there probably never was phase when it could have supported life.

            • by dryeo ( 100693 )

              From wiki, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

              Studies have suggested that billions of years ago Venus's atmosphere was much more like Earth's than it is now, and that there may have been substantial quantities of liquid water on the surface, but after a period of 600 million to several billion years,[62] a runaway greenhouse effect was caused by the evaporation of that original water, which generated a critical level of greenhouse gases in its atmosphere.[63] Although the surface conditions on Venus are no l

        • So right now we have a decent idea for how life could have started, primordial soup and all that. And it seems fairly plausible, but it's also a result of us saying "life began on Earth, this is the most plausible life-forming process that could work on Earth, therefore this is how life started."

          But that's not necessarily the case, there might be other places in the Universe where for some reason it was much easier to life to form, if so panspermia becomes more likely.

          It is quite plausible that Earth is a near optimal location for creating life. Protolife is probably just slime that clings to surfaces and has chemistry that encourages the formation of more and similar slimes, in the particular conditions where there is organic chemistry floating about. Porous rock with warm water, rich with various compounds, nearish volcanic sources that push water and dissolve minerals, what more do you need?

          It is very plausible that there is vastly more bacteria seeping through the

      • "That said, pansperia is a load of crap: it explains nothing about the origin of life (even if life didn't originate on Earth, it had to originate somewhere, can't be turtles all the way down)"

        They *think* they're ready for that argument :

        "Wickramasinghe, Hoyle and Steele have all entertained the notion that there is no need for such a creation story. When asked if there must be abiogenesis at some point, somewhere in the universe, Steele replies, “Actually no. If the universe is steady state infinite

      • That at least has some plausibility, in that it cannot be easily falsified

        Wouldn't the existence of fossils of other forms of life predating the first octopi (or octopi like species) be evidence that this theory is crap? Unless they're claiming that the fossils were extra-terrestrial as well? Or are they proposing life came in waves or something bizarre like that?

    • Re: I don't get it (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Hallux-F-Sinister ( 5127197 ) on Sunday May 20, 2018 @08:10PM (#56644544)
      The only stew that can be made from this single oyster worth of evidence is that there is an anomaly in how few of the intervening evolutionary steps fossils we have found, which could be explained in a number of ways, such as, off the top of my head, the species undergoing a good deal of evolution in a region where the fossils are not available to be found because the sea floor underneath that has been subducted and those fossils, as any such as may have existed, have rejoined the mantle of the Earth. Or maybe they are there and we just have not found them yet. Frankly, a breathless THEY CAME FROM SPAAACEEEE.... is a telltale sign of intellectual laziness or dishonesty, and it is getting a tad late for all the April 1 foolishness.
  • by AndyKron ( 937105 ) on Sunday May 20, 2018 @06:22PM (#56644192)
    Whenever I have a question about our cephalopod superiors I refer to Pharyngula. https://freethoughtblogs.com/p... [freethoughtblogs.com]
  • by ooloorie ( 4394035 ) on Sunday May 20, 2018 @06:28PM (#56644214)

    To make matters even more strange, the paper posits that octopuses could have arrived on Earth in "an already coherent group of functioning genes within (say) cryopreserved and matrix protected fertilized octopus eggs." And these eggs might have "arrived in icy bolides several hundred million years ago."

    That's utterly ridiculous, as even basic high school science can tell you: there are numerous genes that are common to all animals, including octopuses; many of those evolved on earth long before octopuses. Even the eukaryotic cell itself is an idiosyncratic assembly of bacterial components, membranes, and genomes, something that is shared between octopuses and all other higher animals, and that would simply not have arisen the same way elsewhere.

    The only way this could work is if life in the galaxy were in constant exchange everywhere so that life on all life bearing planets in the galaxy shares the same evolutionary history and that history is synchronized.

    • Has the possibility occurred to any of you that the person(s) responsible for this story are trolling us, and LOLing at all the fuss?
      • Has the possibility occurred to any of you that the person(s) responsible for this story are trolling us, and LOLing at all the fuss?

        Very much so. Now think about what that says about the quality of peer reviewing and published science (original paper) and reporting in online magazines (like Quartz).

    • something that is shared between octopuses and all other higher animals, and that would simply not have arisen the same way elsewhere.

      Why?

  • by HiThere ( 15173 ) <<charleshixsn> <at> <earthlink.net>> on Sunday May 20, 2018 @06:43PM (#56644264)

    Check out the specifics of their Ribosomes and the genetic structure of their mitochondria. If those are near standard, then the answer has to be no. If they're wildly at variance with everyone else, I'll consider the possibility.

    Even then, it would take considerable proof, because the encoding of amino acids by RNA looks as if it should be arbitrary. (This is actually a sub-comment under "specifics of their Ribosomes", but it's significant enough that I thought it rated a separate mention.)

    • by Xest ( 935314 )

      Octopus, cuttlefish, squid, and nautilus are all related as cephalopods. They are in the same phylum as snails and slugs on land, and things like nudibranchs underwater,

      Their ancestors are things like ammonites, and it really shouldn't take a genius to spot how ammonites and nautilus could be related, and whilst I accept convergent evolution can trick the eye when trying to judge descendants, it's not merely convergent evolution in this case.

      So we basically have a fossil record going right back to the begin

      • Well, I played with a few octopuses they behaved a bit like dogs, they were curious and and came to me and put their arms around my hand. (Mediterranean sea, Greece)

        • by Xest ( 935314 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @09:53AM (#56646644)

          All too often though, like dogs, it's a taught behaviour by local dive guides, and divers. You see a similar thing with sharks- normally they want nothing to do with you and the most you'll see is the silhouette of one at the edge of visibility in the water. When you see video of sharks interacting with divers and brushing against them it's typically because of them having been baited and trained to associate divers with chum.

          For what it's worth, I've even seen French angelfish trained to interact with people. A lady called Dee Scarr in Bonaire had a pair she'd trained which would approach her specifically when she entered the water and swam to the area they would hang around, but much as with the sharks and chum she did this by feeding them. People have done similar things with moray eels and the like, and lost their fingers as a result, such as the guy who had his thumb bitten off because a large moray mistook it for the sausage the guy would always feed it.

          Ocean animals that will interact of their own free will with no training often include mammals - seals, sea lions, dolphins. You can witness this because even newly born seals who would not have seen people before will approach and play with humans. In fact, it's the older bulls that are basically horse sized (minus the legs) and could snap a human in two that prefer to keep their distance.

          Then as I say there's the squid and cuttlefish, the reason I see these as being more interesting than my experience with octopodes so far is that the behaviours I see - the following and observation of people from a distance, would seem like a hard thing to train, but not only that, but I've witnessed many times across the globe. As such it would seem unlikely this curiosity they show would have been trained into so many different specimens across the globe - in contrast given the tourist draw of octopus interactions, and the relative ease of training that I believe it's more often likely to be a taught trait. This doesn't mean I think the naturally curious octopus is a myth, I think they're more than capable of it, but I think it's a relatively rare thing, at least far more so than the often sold idea that octopus will always just come right upto you and play with you - that's fundamentally not true (and probably a good thing, we don't need people dying to blue ringed octopus because it got frisky and bit them when they were playing with it).

          The other interesting thing about squid and cuttlefish is that they'll try and communicate with you by flashing various colours at you when they approach you, or also if you move your fingers about, such as mimicking their attack pose by lifting your middle 3 fingers and lowering your thumb and little finger. They see this as their attack pose and will match it quite often. It's still very basic, but it's much more non-trivial communication than you get with many other species.

  • by locater16 ( 2326718 ) on Sunday May 20, 2018 @07:02PM (#56644308)
    Intelligent alien 1: "Hey, lets shoot these kind of intelligent animal eggs at a habitable planet and make sure they land safely so they'll spread there!"
    Intelligent alien 2: "Dude, why?"
    Intelligent alien 1: "Cause it's a fun prank! C'mon, don't be a buzzkill."
  • An aquatic environment is certainly the first place I would think that an intellectual species would master the art of designing, building, and launching really big rocket motors. Its just natural to think this. After all, electrical production, machinery, and autonomous transportation is so easy to come by in the natural world, especially those species capable of doing all that under water, where the fuel to power that kind of industry burns so well. /s
  • by rknop ( 240417 ) on Sunday May 20, 2018 @07:31PM (#56644372) Homepage

    In the linked Cosmos article there is this quote from one of the authors:

    The situation is reminiscent to the problem Galileo had with the Catholic priests of his time – most refused to look through his telescope to observe the moons of Jupiter.

    Obviously, this doesn't prove anything, but I like to say that "everybody who's wrong thinks he's Galileo". Referring to the Galileo affair is among science crackpoterry something like Godwin's law in Internet discussions

    • Yes, and the crackpot list is long. Just look at Louis De Broglie, the prince of quantum. His thesis was first laughed at and dismissed by the greats like Bohr. It was't until it was handed to Einstein and he read it, realizing it was brilliant, that it ever was accepted. De Broglie had to fight hard against the accepted orthodoxy in the accepted model, but it turns out, he moved the ball forward.

      https://www.encyclopedia.com/p... [encyclopedia.com]

    • I like to say that "everybody who's wrong thinks he's Galileo".

      Here's Carl Sagan's take on this phenomenon (from "Broca's Brain"):

      The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

  • by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Sunday May 20, 2018 @07:35PM (#56644396) Homepage Journal

    ...

    but it's aliens

    -The Authors

  • Purge the xenos.
  • by careysub ( 976506 ) on Sunday May 20, 2018 @09:27PM (#56644740)

    From the linked LiveScience commentary:

    Other researchers were not quick to embrace this theory. "There's no question, early biology is fascinating — but I think this, if anything, is counterproductive," Ken Stedman, a virologist and professor of biology at Portland State University, told Live Science. "Many of the claims in this paper are beyond speculative, and not even really looking at the literature."

    For example, Stedman said, the octopus genome was mapped in 2015. While it indeed contained many surprises, one relevant finding was that octopus nervous system genes split from the squid's only around 135 million years ago — long after the Cambrian explosion.

    Well, this is looks to be a problem for this hypothesis.

    So I decided to look into this a bit more so I downloaded the paper (which was in "accepted manuscript form" not as published paper) and look up some of its references. A key one is cited in the paper as (Liscovitch-Brauer et al 2017), for which the actual citation reference does not exist in the manuscript. I did find the paper though: Cell. 2017 Apr 6;169(2):191-202.e11. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.03.025, "Trade-off between Transcriptome Plasticity and Genome Evolution in Cephalopods"

    It includes this helpful paragraph (without the Wickramasinghe mumbo-jumbo inserted in the discussion):

    Cephalopods are diverse and can be divided into the behaviorally complex coleoids, consisting of squid, cuttlefish, and octopus, and the more primitive nautiloids. In this paper we show that in neural transcriptomes extensive A-to-I RNA editing is observed in the behaviorally complex coleoid cephalopods but not in nautilus. The edited transcripts are translated into protein isoforms with modified functional properties. By comparing editing across coleoid taxa, we found that, unlike the case for mammals, many sites are highly conserved across the lineage and undergo positive selection, resulting in a sizable slow-down of coleoid genome evolution.

    So the cephalopods are quite unusual, with a different approach to evolution starting with the cuttlefish (long before the octopus) with RNA editing taking precedence over DNA modification for evolution. This is very interesting.

    The Liscovitch-Brauer paper also helpfully explains:

    Cephalopods emerged in the late Cambrian period, roughly at 530 million years ago (mya), and the divergence of nautiloids from coleoides is estimated to have occurred at 350–480 mya. The coleoides diverged to Vampyropoda (octopus lineage) and the Decabrachia (squid and cuttlefish lineage) at 200–350 mya. Divergence of squid from Sepiida is estimated to have occurred at 120–220 mya.

    So, a different approach to adapting to evolutionary pressure developed in the coleoides 350–480 mya (i.e. after splitting off from the nautoloids), which is 50-100 million years after the end of the Cambrian, and 60-110 million years after the Cambrian explosion (541 mya), and was in existence by the time that squid and octopus line separated (200-350 mya after the Cambrian explosion).

    This is an enormous span of time, and no reason to suppose that alien genes imported at the Cambrian explosion started showing up in coleoides well over 100 million years later. Where were they hiding all that time?

    The Wickramasinghe paper cites this anomalous biology of cephaloides, and then jumps to the conclusion "therefore aliens (maybe)".

    They got their paper published, but I don't buy it.

    • Too bad I can't edit to add an addendum.

      What Wickramasinghe et al has done with the octopus is a slightly more sophisticated version of a game that creationists play.

      All this stuff about "camera-like eyes", advanced nervous systems, color-changing etc. being so, so different from the nautilus that it is probably "aliens", is similar to the incredulity creationists express to show that evolution is impossible. The key difference (and the one they emphasize heavily) is the evolution by RNA editing that cephal

  • I have actually *seen* an octopus (well a picture of one). Hey, it's pretty obvious they are alien. Anyone in *your* family look like that? Them little buggers are just waitin' for the Trump wars to wipe us out and they will take over the earth.

    Oh, you have doubts? Well no less an authority than the Simpsons people will straighten you out. Check out Kang and Kodos on Wikipaedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] (have you had your rectal probe today?)

  • And thanks for all the prawns!

  • I mostly watch his atheist videos but he talks about Creationists obsession with the eye and how octopus evolved in an easy to understand video geared for children. [youtube.com]

    He is an excellent teacher but he talks about ancestors to modern octopuses by the eye differences.

  • I think I saw this in the National Enquirer last time I was in a grocery store, so it must be true!

  • ...with the combination of 33,000 genes (humans have about 20,000 genes) everything you get is just an octopus ? Not a big result, for an alien.
  • by Gabest ( 852807 ) on Monday May 21, 2018 @05:18AM (#56645882)
    They are very different than animals, and just suspiciously stand around doing nothing all day.
  • Now taking bets on how many cthulu references will be made on this article.

  • The Correct Plural of Octopus from an authoritative source - Merriam Webster https://youtu.be/n4PWP8uL-1o [youtu.be]
  • however, spiders definitely are extraterrestrial.
  • This is nonsense. My God, what the hell is happening? When did critical thought dwindle to such short supply? There's an increase in "flat earthers", vaccination causing autism won't die, 1/2 America doesn't believe global warming is caused by man... 50 years ago we reveled in science and the potential it offered. Today we can't even have a public debate at college lest someone feels "offended".
  • How to delete a /. post, anyone?

    How the fuck did this end up being posted. I've never heard of such nonsense. Even the fact that we can measure genetic divergence should be a good indication that octopi are clearly terrestrial in origin.

    DELETE THIS CRAP

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