Pharyngula

global-octopus

I saw it coming. The octopus genome was sequenced, and one scientist gushed about the differences between cephalopods and vertebrates, calling them “alien”, and that became the news. People really need to read the paper before reporting on it, because it emphasizes the relatedness of octopuses to other animals.

But the creationists don’t care about facts. They’re motivated to lie. The latest: Darwinism Versus the Octopus: An Evolutionary Dilemma.

No, it’s really not.

The author, Eric Metaxas, cites his friend, the intelligent design creationist Stephen Meyer, so it’s no wonder he gets everything wrong. Really, read the paper, rather than relying on second or third or fourth hand anecdotes filtered through other creationists, and you wouldn’t say stupid things like this.

A study published in the journal “Nature” describes how researchers sequenced the octopus genome and found something surprising. Compared with other invertebrates, the DNA of the octopus was “alien”: nothing like the genetic codes of what they thought were similar animals, like clams and sea snails.

Pet peeve: the “genetic code” refers to the triplet nucleotide code that translates a DNA sequence into an amino acid sequence in a protein. It does not mean the genetic sequence itself. Huckleberry Finn and Moby Dick use the same English code to translate a collection of 26 letters into words and sentences and paragraphs, but the words and sentences and paragraphs are different. The genetic code of octopus is the same genetic code used by humans.

But the rest of that claim is flatly contradicted by the paper. For one, the word “alien” isn’t used once in the entire paper; for another, they didn’t find octopus and clams and sea snails radically different.

In gene family content, domain architecture and exon–intron structure, the octopus genome broadly resembles that of the limpet Lottia gigantea, the polychaete annelid Capitella teleta and the cephalochordate Branchiostoma floridae. Relative to these invertebrate bilaterians, we found a fairly standard set of developmentally important transcription factors and signalling pathway genes, suggesting that the evolution of the cephalopod body plan did not require extreme expansions of these ‘toolkit’ genes.

Read those two sentences carefully. They say the exact opposite of what Metaxas wrote! Keep that in mind when you read the rest of the essay: Eric Metaxas has not read the paper, does not understand the paper, and is making shit up that is contradicted by the paper.

Now, octopi aren’t from another planet, but they are, figuratively speaking, out-of-this-world. They can change color and texture, they use ink to make a quick getaway, and they’re shockingly clever. They can unscrew jar lids and squeeze their soft bodies through just about any opening. One nineteenth century naturalist tells of an octopus climbing out of its tank, ambling across the room to a neighboring tank, and gorging itself on fish before returning home!

The key to this uncanny intelligence is the octopus’ so-called “alien” nervous system, brain, and eyes. But these features are not alien to the animal kingdom at all. In fact, they’re quite common in higher vertebrates. The octopus genome shares key similarities with ours, including the development of high-powered brains and “camera eyes” with a cornea, lens, and retina.

Now here’s the problem for evolution: according to Neo-Darwinists, we’re not related to octopi—at least not within the last several hundred million years. That means all of these genes, complex structures, and incredible capabilities came about twice.

We’re related to octopus (not “octopi” — how much can this guy get wrong?), but we’ve diverged for over half a billion years. What was found is that we share the same basic toolkit, a collection of genes that evolved before the expansion of multicellular animals 600-700 million years ago. We find the same gene families in cephalopods, vertebrates, fruit flies, whatever: the genome work did not discover aliens, but familiar genes for zinc finger proteins, protocadherins, G-protein coupled receptors, sialins, etc., etc., etc. They were just expanded from their simpler beginnings in different ways.

In just the same way, Herman Melville and Mark Twain learned the same ABCs and grammar and rules of writing as young people, and then went off and wrote their own damned books. You can read them and see very different stories, but at the same time they aren’t alien to each other: same language, same culture, same American roots.

A comparison of cephalopod genomes to other animals reveals the same phenomenon: the same metazoan roots, the words writ in unique arrangements.

But I imagine we’re now going to see a couple of decades worth of creationist distortions, all built around the one word “alien” rather than the actual data. They should be ashamed, but they never are.

Comments

  1. #1 Karl Lembke
    September 9, 2015

    Maybe Creationists are the aliens.

  2. #2 Politicalguineapig
    September 9, 2015

    KL: Nah, aliens’d be more intelligent. I’d actually like to see an octopus and a creationist both do an intelligence test side-by side.

  3. #3 G
    September 10, 2015

    Classic case of press release rumor-amplification by idiots with axes to grind.

    Now watch the meme take off on Faceborg.

  4. […] Creationists are now actively propagating the claim that octopuses are aliens – Science Blogs […]

  5. #5 James V. Kohl
    Northern Geogia
    September 14, 2015

    See also: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2015/08/14/i-repeat-octopuses-are-not-aliens/ I repeat: Octopuses are NOT aliens

    “New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.”

    Now, PeeZee wants us to believe his claims about creationists and his claims that:

    “…a collection of genes that evolved before the expansion of multicellular animals 600-700 million years ago.”

    PeeZee claims “They were just expanded from their simpler beginnings in different ways.”

    No experimental evidence of biologically-based cause and effect links evolution to the G protein-coupled receptors that link the de novo creation of nucleic acids to the de novo creation of olfactory receptor genes and the extant biodivesity exemplified in cephalopods, vertebrates, fruit flies, and all vertebrates.

    That explains why PeeZee stopped my attempts to discuss chromosomal rearrangements on two prior occasions.

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