Octopuses are thought to be the most intelligent invertebrates
Dr Helen Scales is due to deliver a talk at the Cambridge Science Festival tomorrow at which she will consider the theory, as well looking at the reasons why they are so clever. The 2018 study, entitled Cause of Cambrian Explosion – Terrestrial or Cosmic? was co-authored by a group of 33 scientists and published in the Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology journal. The paper suggests that the explanation for the sudden flourishing of life during the Cambrian era – often referred to as the Cambrian Explosion – lies in the stars, as a result of the Earth being bombarded by clouds of organic molecules.
The paper states: “The genome of the Octopus shows a staggering level of complexity with 33,000 protein-coding genes more than is present in Homo sapiens.
“One plausible explanation, in our view, is that the new genes are likely new extraterrestrial imports to Earth – most plausibly as an already coherent group of functioning genes within (say) cryopreserved and matrix protected fertilised Octopus eggs.”
Dr Scales, whose new book, Octopuses: A Ladybird Expert Book, is published on Thursday, March 21, does not actually buy the idea herself, saying: “They claim they have evidence to support their theory that extra terrestrial viruses came to earth around 500 million years ago and kick starting the Cambrian explosion.
“But there really is no proof that this is where viruses came from, and this doesn’t explain how they formed in the first place.
“Genetic evidence tells us that octopuses evolved from squid ancestors around 135 million years ago.
“The authors of the study argue that other unconventional ideas in the history of science have later turned out to be true. But that really doesn’t prove anything.
“There are plenty of other outlandish theories that aren’t true.
“Really, this paper just poses an interesting idea, which is perhaps worth thinking about, but there’s no proof backing it up.”
There have been suggestions that octopuses have extraterrestrial origins
“Every time I’ve met an octopus in the wild I’ve had a strong sense that they’re watching me and contemplating what I’m up to
Nevertheless, she emphasised the uniqueness of the remarkable cephalopods, often regarded as the most intelligent of all invertebrates.
She said: “There’s something instantly captivating about Octopuses. I think it’s because they look and behave so differently from any other animals.
“All those arms and suckers that twist and hold onto things, their ability to change shape and colour with such sophistication and control, the way they can squeeze into tiny spaces then peep out with those big eyes watching you.
“Every time I’ve met an octopus in the wild I’ve had a strong sense that they’re watching me and contemplating what I’m up to.
Despite their incredible evolution octopuses only live a brief period of time
“There’s definitely something powerful going on behind their eyes.”
During her talk, Dr Scales will consider why octopuses have blue blood, and three hearts, why they navigate the seas by jet propulsion, and how their massive brains extend into their arms, giving them special sensory abilities.
She added: “What really marks them out is that fact they they’ve evolved highly complex nervous systems and complex behaviours that are not at all normal for invertebrates, animals without backbones.
“In my talk I’ll be considering how and why octopuses evolved such big brains, and what they tell us about the evolution of intelligence.
Octopuses use jet propulion – one of their many fascinating traits
“Octopuses are highly intelligent, especially compared to all the other invertebrates. They have complex nervous systems with around 500 million nerves, half of them clustered in their heads and the rest in their arms, controlling their agile limbs and super-sensitive suckers.
“Captive and wild octopuses have shown remarkable abilities to solve problems and use tools, like carrying two halves of an empty coconut around and assembling them as a shelter when they want to hide.”
Yet despite all this, most octopuses live for just two years on average, a fact which consistently baffles biologists.
Dr Scales said: “Their short life span is one of the really surprising things about octopuses. It’s undeniably odd that these smart animals live such rich lives, but for such a short time.
“It’s not exactly clear why they’ve evolved to live fast and die young. It could come down to a build up of genetic mutations that limit their life span.
“Essentially the theory goes that because octopuses are soft-bodied and highly vulnerable to predation, it means genetic mutations that act late in life tend not to be removed from the population: a mutation that causes, say, a break down of eye pigments leading to blindness, won’t affect many octopuses because they are mostly already dead and eaten by the time the mutation kicks in.
“Accumulating such late-acting mutations could lead to the situation most octopuses now face, of apparently being pre-programmed to die young. Not all do, though.
“An octopus in the deep sea has been seen brooding her clutch of eggs continuously for 4.5 years.”