It’s no wonder that some might think this creature is from another planet. Photo: L. Kipp

The Inertia

Of the approximate 8.7 million species on planet Earth, octopuses are among the most bizarre. These eight-legged brainiacs can camouflage themselves in the blink of an eye, can unscrew themselves out of sealed jars, and have not one but three hearts. Weirder yet, octopuses are now understood to be able to change their genetic code. And after studying their DNA, a group of scientists are making a shocking claim that they might be aliens… yes, aliens.

The University of Chicago organized the first genome sequencing ever conducted on octopuses. “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,” said Dr Clifton Ragsdale, a researcher from the University of Chicago.

The team found a remarkable complexity with some 33,000 protein-coding genes identified, which is 10,000 more than is found in a human. They found that its DNA is highly scattered and unorganized, like a shuffled deck of cards. Furthermore, their genetic code possesses a number of “jumping genes” that hop around the genome. These are such findings that led a group of researchers to believe octopuses are perhaps not of this world.

(Read more about their findings in Meredith Placko’s article on


But like all great science, there is always room for other theories and opinions. So, as you can imagine, when the claim was made that octopuses were possibly aliens, other scientists didn’t hesitate to step up to the plate and challenge this unusual assertion.

Writer for the The Stranger, Charles Mudede, cautioned us not to frame alienness as a matter of DNA. “This was not an accident but an inevitable consequence of the public’s hyperfocus on the importance of genetic information,” said Mudede. “No matter how crazy an animal’s DNA might appear, it is probably from this planet if its cells contain the energy-generating organelles called mitochondria.” (Read the full article here.)

At the end of the day, there’s still a lot to uncover, as scientists have only scratched the surface of breaking down the genome. Whether either assessment is accurate is still undetermined, but one thing is for sure: The University of Chicago project reaffirmed the fact that life on Earth is unimaginably diverse and often mysterious. Still, as the practice continues to be innovative, genome mapping projects can reveal so much about the world that we don’t yet know.


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