Good science makes room for peer review. So when one scientists exclaims: “Yo, octopuses are basically aliens!” Another can step up and shout: “I call bullshit, homes.” And that’s how progress happens.
A lot of ink was spilled recently over the University of Chicago’s Octopus Genome Project, which issued a statement declaring that the cephalopod’s 33,000 genes are sequenced in a way that’s so complex it seems unearthly. “The late British zoologist Martin Wells said the octopus is an alien,” wrote the University of Chicago’s Dr. Clifton Ragsdale. “In this sense, then, our paper describes the first sequenced genome from an alien.”
But writing at The Stanger, critic and buzzkill Charles Mudede cautions us to slow our roll, warning that we should not judge “alienness as a matter of DNA. And this was not an accident but an inevitable consequence of the public’s hyperfocus on the importance of genetic information.”
“But, 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,” he writes.
And he’s dead right. Octopuses are not Aliens. If anything, the UChicago project proves that the Earth is a more diverse place than we had imagined, not a more accessible one to fish-hungry, tentacular marauders. Still, the idea of the found alien remains alluring. As genetic scientists examine more wildlife, a chance exists that they will find something that isn’t from around here.
It’s just not a very big chance.