Researchers sequenced octopus genomes and discovered alien DNA. See Example( s )

Collected via e-mail and Twitter, June 2016

So many stupid posts about octopus DNA coming from Space. This can't be true. I have seen multiple sites post that scientists don't know where octopus DNA came from, and there is nothing else like them on Earth, that they can't trace the evolutionary chain and theorize that they are alien or of e.t. origins.




In June 2016, a number of web sites reported that a study examined octopus DNA and discovered it was either “alien” or “from space”:

The DNA of octopus may not be from this world, scientists revealed. The new study concluded that octopuses actually have alien DNA!

According to the study published in the journal Nature, octopuses have a genome that yields an unprecedented level of complexity, composed of 33,000 protein-coding genes. This number is way beyond the number that can be found in a human being.

Other dubious outlets made similar assertions, claiming that the study showed beyond a doubt that octupuses don’t come from the planet Earth:

Now, it seems as if aliens always existed amongst us, but we never knew it! If a new study is to be believed, Octopuses are actually aliens!

The study concluded that octopuses have “alien” genes and more probing from the marine biologists can reveal more breakthroughs. The world is still so vast and we only knew half of what is really out there!

A new study has led researchers to conclude that Octopuses (NOT Octopi) have Alien DNA. Their genome shows a never-before-seen level of complexity with a staggering 33,000 protein-coding genes identified, more than in a human being.

US researcher Dr. Clifton Ragsdale, from the University of Chicago, said: 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 abilities.

“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.”

The first article linked directly to the study, which contained no reference to aliens or space:

Coleoid cephalopods (octopus, squid and cuttlefish) are active, resourceful predators with a rich behavioural repertoire. They have the largest nervous systems among the invertebrates and present other striking morphological innovations including camera-like eyes, prehensile arms, a highly derived early embryogenesis and a remarkably sophisticated adaptive colouration system. To investigate the molecular bases of cephalopod brain and body innovations, we sequenced the genome and multiple transcriptomes of the California two-spot octopus, Octopus bimaculoides. We found no evidence for hypothesized whole-genome duplications in the octopus lineage. The core developmental and neuronal gene repertoire of the octopus is broadly similar to that found across invertebrate bilaterians, except for massive expansions in two gene families previously thought to be uniquely enlarged in vertebrates: the protocadherins, which regulate neuronal development, and the C2H2 superfamily of zinc-finger transcription factors. Extensive messenger RNA editing generates transcript and protein diversity in genes involved in neural excitability, as previously described, as well as in genes participating in a broad range of other cellular functions. We identified hundreds of cephalopod-specific genes, many of which showed elevated expression levels in such specialized structures as the skin, the suckers and the nervous system.

The study wasn’t published in June 2016, or 2016 at all, but August 2015. It’s unclear why multiple web sites suddenly picked up and ran with a completely erroneous interpretation nearly a year after it appeared. The “alien” angle appears to have originated with a press release, which (like the study) was published in 2015: 

“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 co-senior author Clifton Ragsdale, associate professor in Neurobiology and Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago. “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.”

It was clear that Ragsdale meant that the octopus was an alien metaphorically, not literally. But, as is often the case, a number of outlets seized upon the use of the word to spin up stories without first reviewing the source material:

Yesterday, a number of sites started running stories that seemed to imply that octopuses are aliens. As in, from outer space (?). The Yahoo! News headline ran with Octopus genetic code reveals ‘alien creature’; over at the Mirror, they were having a field day with Octopus genetic code is so strange it could be an ALIEN, according to scientists; and the Irish Examiner proudly proclaimed, Don’t freak out, but scientists think octopuses ‘might be aliens’ after DNA study.

The words “alien,” “space,” or even “Earth” didn’t appear in the August 2015 study of octopus gene sequencing. However, a tongue-in-cheek remark made later by one researcher was widely taken out of context to suggest otherwise. 


Albertin, Caroline B. et. al.   “The Octopus Genome And The Evolution Of Cephalopod Neural And Morphological Novelties.”
    Nature.   13 August 2015.

Creighton, Jolene.   “Evolution 101: No, An Octopus Is Not An Alien.”
    Futurism.   13 August 2015.

Danson, Casey Coates.   “Scientists Conclude [Octopus] DNA Is Not From This World.”
    Global Possibilities.   11 June 2016.

Jiang, Kevin.   “Landmark Sequencing Of Octopus Genome Shows Basis For Intelligence, Camouflage.”
    UChicagoNews.   13 August 2015.

Science World Report.   “Octopuses Are Aliens With Weird DNA And Superpower Capabilities.”
    13 June 2016.

Zee News.   “Bizarre: Study Compares Octopuses With Aliens For Weird DNA!”
    14 June 2016.

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