Mother Nature was feeling particularly avant-garde when she cooked up the octopus.
As well as a ridiculous number of arms, the ability to camouflage itself and squirt ink to distract predators, the sea creature is phenomenally intelligent - so much so that when kept in captivity they can figure out ways to escape.
Late zoologist Martin Wells apparently thought that octopuses are so different from other life forms they could be an aliens - and new research has gone part of the way to proving him right.
Scientists at the University of Chicago have sequenced the entire 2.7 billion “letters” of the octopus’s genetic code for the first time, and found that its intelligence evolved far earlier than other 'higher' animals - some 230 million years before mammals.
“They were the first intelligent beings on the planet", said Dr Sydney Brenner of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, who also worked on the international project.
The study, published in Nature, revealed that the octopus genome is slightly smaller than that of humans, but it has about 10,000 more genes that may give the octopus its unique characteristics and abilities. In particular, octopuses have 10 times as many special genes for nerve cell development than other invertebrates and more than twice as many as most mammals.
It is an incredible resource that opens up new questions that could not have been asked before about these remarkable animals.
We've found hundreds of novel genes that don't have counterparts in other animals... In this sense, then, our study describes the first sequenced genome from an alien.
- Dr Clifton Ragsdale, University of Chicago