A recent paper coauthored by 33 people speculated that octopi, and perhaps by extension other similar cephalopods, are from outside of our solar system, possibly coming to Earth as hitchhikers riding (or, rather, frozen in) comets and meteors and then disseminating in the oceans of our planet.
The so-called “panspermia hypothesis,” which postulates that biological life on Earth didn’t evolve independently, but rather, was “seeded” by such life forms coming to our planet, doesn’t really hold water when it’s explored.
As much as I’d love it if it were true, it’s just not. Or at least, this paper doesn’t establish anything like it.
A customer eats a ‘pulpo a feira’ (meaning fair-style octopus in Galician), a boiled octopus dish, at the restaurant Ultreya in Palas de Rei, northern Spain on November 22, 2014. The ‘pulpo a feira’ is one of the most traditional and famous of Galician dishes. AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL RIOPA (Photo credit: MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP/Getty Images)
The hypothesis goes like this: There was such an explosion of diversity, including in the octopus, during the Cambrian period — when most modern animal groups appeared — that it must have been caused by an extraterrestrial virus that crashed to Earth onboard a comet or meteor (or both). Said virus then altered squid to become octopi. They also propose that both fertilized animal eggs and tardigrades came here the same way — and, since the latter creature can exist for decades while frozen or dried by 95%, including in the vacuum of space, it seems more likely that they could have come from outside our planet.
An octopus is pictured March 6, 2018 at the Oceanopolis sea center, in Brest, western France. / AFP PHOTO / Fred TANNEAU (Photo credit: FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images)
While octopi have complex nervous systems, the capacity to camouflage themselves rapidly, and rather camera-like eyes — all of which seemed to evolve suddenly — DNA sequencing shows that squids and octopi split evolutionarily about 135 million years ago, long after the Cambrian explosion.
Ken Stedman, a virologist and professor of biology at Portland State University, put it bluntly when asked about the hypothesis by LiveScience. “There’s no question, early biology is fascinating — but I think this, if anything, is counterproductive. Many of the claims in this paper are beyond speculative, and not even really looking at the literature.”
Another expert who weighed in is Karin Mölling, virologist at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Germany, who wrote about this idea when the paper was first published in March:
“[The findings] cannot be taken seriously. There is no evidence for it at all.”
The research will continue — and that is, after all, how the scientific method works: Research, gather empirical evidence, publish, get peer reviews, rinse, repeat.
What do you think about this idea? Let us know in the comments.