They are amazing beings as it is. Able to squeeze through tiny holes, escape in a cloud of ink and use great strength and suction to prey on their food. Now a new study says they may not have even arisen on Earth.
It does sound like the plot of a bad movie, however, a group of 33 scientists from well-known institutions around the world argue that the eggs of the billowy creatures rode to earth in the train of a comet. Others strongly dispute the idea.
Supporters if the idea make two arguments in their article in the journal Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology. One is that fertilized octopus eggs crashed into the ocean during a comet collision. Second is that a space virus infected early squid and jump started their evolution, turning them rapidly into octopi. Squid and Octopi are related and are both cephalopods.
Not so fast, say other scientists. The biggest single problem is one admitted by the authors, that the paper is speculative and has very little concrete evidence behind it. Some scientists think the paper is useful because it “thinks outside the box” so to speak. Others think it is a waste of time. Another problem is that the authors suggest space viruses could have infected early squid and changed their evolutionary direction, evolving from squid to octopi. One critic notes that the octopus genome was mapped in 2015 and it appears that squid and octopus separated about 135 million years ago, not 540,
The debate about octopus origins is part of the debate over the contested concept of panspermia. Panspermia is the concept that viruses and bacteria have arrived on earth from comets and evolved into higher life forms. It has been roundly rejected and grudgingly accepted and is now considered plausible. It has been shown that comets contain ammonia and methane, which can transform into amino acids. It has also been shown that comets contain a number of other life affirming compounds that could have given rise to life on Earth. There is evidence that space dust contains the building blocks of life compounds. It is even argued that since no experiments have ever shown life arising from nothing, than life must have come from life – perhaps in the tail of a comet.
Serious issues remain as many doubt the ability of viruses to survive a trip of several million years. Or the heat and pressure of entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Or the radiation they would encounter. Those arguments have recently been at least partly countered. A better understanding of comets suggests their extremely cold, watery makeup could allow bacteria and viruses to remain in a form of hibernation. That makeup could also shield any bacteria and viruses from radiation. Many argue that it is possible that viruses and bacteria could have arrived from outer space, but it is certainly not proven.
No one knows for sure. What is sure is that octopi and squid are fascinating and have preyed on human imagination as terrors of the deep. Although the depth of our knowledge of the sea has expanded, the deep still holds secrets.