×
FOLLOW THE WEEK ON FACEBOOK
May 16, 2018
FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images

Octopuses are pretty weird. So weird, in fact, that we know very little about their strange and solitary existences, with Quartz suggesting that "they are the closest creature to an alien here on Earth." Now, 33 scientists from respectable institutions like the University of Alberta's Department of Biochemistry and the Center for the Physics of Living Organisms at Michigan Technological University have taken it a step further — and suggested that octopuses might have actually arrived on Earth millions of years ago from outer space, The Daily Grail reports.

The researchers' claim is made in the journal Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, and it suggests that a "plausible explanation" for the octopus' genetic weirdness is that "squid and/or octopus eggs arrived in icy bodies several hundred million years ago."

This is quite the leap from the slightly-less-fringe theory of panspermia, which is "the idea that life has spread throughout the universe via comets, asteroids, etc.," as The Daily Grail explains — although panspermia is typically thought of as a possible method for the delivery of microbes or viruses to our planet. The researchers are actually suggesting that "cryopreserved" octopus eggs crashed into Earth several million years ago as a legitimate explanation for the creatures' extraordinary evolution.

There are plenty of skeptics, including biologist P.Z. Myers, who calls the research "garbage" and notes that while there "are novelties in cephalopod evolution," that doesn't just mean you can use it "as evidence [of] an outer space origin for the octopus." He argues that if octopuses really came from another world, "they would be completely unrelated to any other animal lineage on the planet. They would not be related to other mollusks … They would be totally alien." Read more about the debate over whether octopuses are aliens at The Daily Grail. Jeva Lange

9:07 p.m. ET
Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

Colin Kaepernick will receive the W.E.B. Du Bois medal from Harvard, the university's highest honor in African and African American studies, this October.

Harvard's Hutchins Center for African and African American Studies announced this year's recipients of the award, given to people "in recognition of their contributions to African and African American culture and the life of the mind," on Thursday. A total of eight people are receiving the medal this year, including comedian Dave Chapelle and artist Kehinde Wiley, who painted former President Barack Obama's official portrait.

Previous winners of the medal, named in honor of the NAACP founder and first African American to earn a Harvard doctorate, include Maya Angelou and Muhammad Ali. Kaepernick started a national conversation in 2016 after he began kneeling during the national anthem ahead of football games. A free agent who is not playing on any team, he's now the face of the latest Nike campaign, appearing in ads with the words, "Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything." Catherine Garcia

8:08 p.m. ET
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Marion "Suge" Knight, the former rap mogul who founded Death Row Records in the 1990s, pleaded no contest on Thursday to a voluntary manslaughter charge.

Knight was accused of running over one man and hitting another with his truck in a Compton, California, parking lot in 2015. Terry Carter, 55, was killed, and Cle "Bone" Sloan sustained serious injuries. The incident took place near where the movie Straight Outta Compton was being filmed, and was caught on surveillance tape. Sloan was working security for the film set, and Knight claimed he was speeding away because Sloan had a gun.

Knight will be sentenced Oct. 4, and is expected to receive 28 years in prison, ABC Los Angeles reports. Under the plea deal, the judge will dismiss additional charges against Knight during his sentencing: making criminal threats and stealing a camera. Catherine Garcia

7:43 p.m. ET
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sent Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) a letter Thursday accepting his invitation to attend a hearing on Monday regarding a sexual assault accusation made against Kavanaugh.

"From the moment I first heard this allegation, I have categorically and unequivocally denied it," Kavanaugh wrote in the letter. "I remain committed to defending my integrity." He also said he wanted the hearing to take place as soon as possible so "that I can clear my name."

Christine Blasey Ford, a professor living in California, accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were both teenagers. Grassley announced the hearing on Monday, before Ford and Kavanaugh agreed to attend, and Ford's lawyers have been negotiating with the committee on whether she will appear. Her lawyer said Thursday that it's "not possible" for Ford to testify in front of the panel on Monday, and "the committee's insistence that it occur then is arbitrary." That being said, if senators agree to "terms that are fair," Ford "would be prepared to testify next week." Ford had requested an FBI investigation before testifying. Catherine Garcia

7:09 p.m. ET
Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

At least 44 people were killed Thursday when a passenger ferry capsized in Lake Victoria, officials said.

There were hundreds of people on the ferry, with local media reporting it was overloaded and likely had between 400 and 500 passengers. Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa, surrounded by Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya.

Officials said 37 people have been pulled from the water, but because of poor visibility, it's too hard to conduct a thorough search, and rescue efforts will resume in the morning. Catherine Garcia

6:38 p.m. ET
Patrick Pleul/AFP/Getty Images

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on Thursday signed a law that bans restaurant servers from automatically giving customers single-use plastic straws.

Straws will still be available upon request, and the law does not apply to fast food establishments. Brown said plastic trash is a major threat to marine life, and the California Coastal Commission has found that plastic straws and stirrers are among the most common pieces of trash found on state beaches. "Plastic has helped advance innovation in our society, but our infatuation with single-use convenience has led to disastrous consequences," Brown said in a statement. "Plastic, in all forms — straws, bottles, packaging, bags, etc. — are choking the planet."

Restaurants that do not abide by the law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2019, will get two warnings, and then a fine of $25 per day, up to $300 a year. California is the first state to enact such a law. Catherine Garcia

5:54 p.m. ET
Fred Tanneau/AFP/Getty Images

It turns out that an octopus on ecstasy doesn't act all that different than a human on ecstasy.

Scientists who for some reason felt compelled to dunk octopuses into an MDMA solution found that they became more sociable and relaxed, The Atlantic reported Thursday. The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine neuroscientists were surprised to find that the usually solitary and often surly creatures were suddenly interested in befriending their tank-mates and behaving more vulnerably.

Octopuses are extremely intelligent, but their brains are structured differently than those of mammals, neuroscientist Gül Dölen told The Atlantic. Their sophisticated brains are organized "much more like a snail's brain than ours," she said. While the octopuses in the trial were at first independent, a quick bath in an MDMA solution to allow them to absorb the drug through their gills made them willing to interact with one another. The serotonin-releasing amphetamine seemed to cause euphoria just like it does in humans. "They even exposed their [underside], where their mouth is, which is not something octopuses usually do," said Dölen.

The study is just a pilot, but it's still one of the first to show similar drug effects on such dissimilar brains. It provides evidence that serotonin has been an important chemical for social function for millions of years, stretching back to the most recent common ancestor of humans and octopuses, around 800 million years ago. As neuroscientist Robyn Crook told The Atlantic: "There are only so many ways to make an intelligent brain." Summer Meza

5:21 p.m. ET
Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

The Kremlin began working behind the scenes to disrupt the 2016 election more than two years in advance. But even when Russian interference became obvious, U.S. officials spent weeks watching the infiltration occur before they could fight it off.

The Democratic National Committee's cybersecurity contractor, CrowdStrike, announced in June 2016 that Russian hackers had compromised the organization's network. The New York Times reported Thursday that CrowdStrike had actually been battling with hackers for weeks. Robert Johnston, a lead investigator for the company, said the hackers "were like a thunderstorm moving through the system — very, very noisy."

Despite the noise, CrowdStrike and the DNC didn't make any noise of their own about the hacking, choosing instead to quietly work to discern how Russians had broken in and figure out how to block them. Russia managed to obtain thousands of documents from the DNC's network, and provided them to WikiLeaks for publication.

"We knew it was the Russians, and they knew we knew," Johnston told the Times of the cyberwarfare. "I would say it was the cyber equivalent of hand-to-hand combat." Russian hackers may have intercepted communications about the DNC's efforts to fend off their attacks, helping them to dodge attempts to shut down their malware. Twelve Russian intelligence officers were indicted in July 2018 for the break-in. Read more at The New York Times. Summer Meza

See More Speed Reads