For years and years, many people have speculated about life on other planets. “Are we truly alone in the universe?” some ask.Â ButÂ there is, in fact, an otherworldly creature that lives among us: the octopus.
The octopus is not an actual alien, of course. Number one, that’d be ridiculous; and number two, octopi possess mitochondria, which, as you may remember from biology class, is “the powerhouse of the cell.” That characteristicÂ defines them as earthlings.
It’s fun to think of them as alien, though, especially considering how crazy unique they are. Their three hearts, serious intelligence, and ability to regrowÂ severed tentacles makes me think ofÂ Time Lords, but there’s even more to them than that.Â They change color to blend in with their surroundings, jet themselves around, have suckers that can grasp and hold things, and possess limbs that can actÂ intelligently and independently of their hosts when disembodied.
On top of that, aÂ studyÂ published this past August, which focused on two-spot octopi, discovered some of the ins and outs ofÂ their quirky, complex genome. It was so weird that the researchers said (in jest) that they were the first to describe an alien’s set of genes. Some of their genome characteristics actually resemble thoseÂ of vertebrates, though aÂ numberÂ of their genes are found nowhere else in the animal kingdom; they’re completely special to octopi.
AlsoÂ fascinating is their gene placement. Usually similar genes tend to stick together, but that is not always the case in an octopus. For instance, their Hox gene is mixed up and spread all over the genome, seemingly at random. As the study’s co-lead author, Caroline Albertin said:
“With a few notable exceptions, the octopus basically has a normal invertebrate genome that’s just been completely rearranged, like it’s been put into a blender and mixed.”
So it’s not like we needed a study to confirm that octopi were darned cool, but this study has given scientists a better idea of why and how the creatures are so darned cool.
Seriously. Who needs aliens when we have octopi on our home planet?