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August 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 31, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Are Aliens Taking Over Our Oceans?

from the August, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Octopus, squid and cuttlefish numbers are on the rise and gradually taking over the oceans. New research published in Cell Biology tells us that global warming, combined with over-fishing, may have caused a boom in cephalopod populations. Besides being an important source food for many animals, including marine mammals and seabirds, they are predators themselves. They are quick to adapt, are relatively short-lived yet very fast-growing and intelligent enough to exploit new opportunities.

Octopus
Lead author of the scientific report, Dr. Zöe Doubleday, thinks that cephalopods are very responsive to temperature. Warmer seas might accelerate their life cycles, increasing the amount they reproduce. At the same time, over-fishing has reduced competitors and predators of cephalopods.

Foodies and culinary experts may think they taste delicious, and supplies are plentiful, but remember: octopuses were probably the first intelligent beings on earth, evolving more than 400 million years ago and some 230 million years before mammals. They have three hearts and three-fifths of their neurons are in their arms, which they can regrow. They're cannibalistic loners that have sex at a distance using a modified tentacle. Masters of camouflage, not only can they change color when mimicking objects and other animals, they may be able to see with their skin.

But are they actually aliens? A study published in Nature has pointed to a study that has led researchers to conclude that octopuses have alien DNA. Their genome shows a never-seen-before level of complexity, with no fewer than 33,000 protein-coding genes identified. That's more than we have!

Dr. Clifton Ragsdale from the University of Chicago said, "The octopus appears to be utterly different from all other animals. The late British zoologist, Martin Wells, said the octopus was an alien. In this sense, then, our [research] paper describes the first sequenced genome from an alien."

This has been a ground-shaking claim for the scientific community, which caused an upheaval among marine biologists who seemed both shocked and intrigued.

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