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Octopuses Have Weird Genes, But They Are Not Aliens

By Melissa McEwen in Food on Aug 26, 2015 4:15PM

I'm sure you've seen the articles claiming octopuses are aliens all over social media lately. Turns out the Chicago scientists who authored the study in question didn't mean that octopuses are literally from outer space, but that their DNA is just really really weird compared to ours.

"It’s the first sequenced genome from something like an alien," went the original quote in Nature by University of Chicago neurobiologist Clifton Ragsdale. Rather than being from outer space, humans and octopuses actually share a common Earth ancestor, likely a little worm-like creature that lived 700 million years ago.

In those millions of years a lot has changed. Some of the octopus's close relatives, other mollusks like clams, aren't exactly the most bright creatures on our planet. Meanwhile, octopuses can open jars:

The scientists were looking for clues as to why octopuses are so much smarter. What they found is uniquely large numbers of genes involved in things like short-range communication between neurons, which they need since they don't have a backbone to manage brain-limb communications like we do. They also have genes for something like neurotransmitters in their suckers, which probably has to do with their ability to taste through them. The take home message is that octopuses are very different from us, but have some pretty incredible abilities and scientists are eager to find out why. But they aren't aliens.