This just in – octopuses may actually be aliens

Published on
August 18, 2015

Fishers and farmers of octopuses take note – it looks as though you’re dealing with a species that is so strange, some scientists are calling it alien.

While conducting the first whole genome analysis of a California two-spot octopus, an international team of researchers quickly realized that the tentacle-laden creature possessed qualities not common among other sea dwellers. They uncovered striking variances from other invertebrates, “including widespread genomic rearrangements and a dramatic expansion of a family of genes involved in neuronal development that was once thought to be unique to vertebrates.”

The findings ultimately left co-senior author Clifton Ragsdale, PhD, associate professor in the Departments of Neurobiology and Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago, calling out octopuses for what they genetically seem to be.

"The octopus appears to be utterly different from all other animals, even other molluscs, with its eight prehensile arms, its large brain and its clever problem-solving capabilities," said Ragsdale. “The late British zoologist Martin Wells said the octopus is an alien. In this sense, then, our paper describes the first sequenced genome from an alien."

Furthermore, the research team discovered that within the cephalopod genome exists 33,000 protein-coding genes, which is more than even humans possess. In the California two-spot octopus, researchers also identified six octopus-specific reflectins which help to manipulate light and spur camouflage.

It is the hope of the scientists who helped sequence the octopus genome – who hail from the University of Chicago, University of California, Berkeley and Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology as part of the Cephalopod Sequencing Consortium – that the results of their tests will serve “as an important foundation for evolutionary studies and deeper investigations into the genetic and molecular mechanisms that underlie cephalopod-specific traits.”

Read more from the study here: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v524/n7564/full/nature14668.html

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