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According to researchers, the entire structure of a starfish could bear a closer resemblance to a head.
The recent study provides insight into the origins of the unique star-shaped body of these creatures, a mystery that has perplexed scientists for some time.
Echinoderms are a collective of marine creatures consisting of starfish (also known as sea stars), sea urchins, and sand dollars.
The body is divided into five sections, following a distinct five-point symmetry.
This is unlike their bilateral predecessors, where the left and right sides are symmetrical, as seen in humans and many other animal species.
As per the results, the investigators identified distinct gene patterns linked to the growth of the head in juvenile sea stars, but there was a limited presence of genes responsible for the development of the animal’s body and tail regions.
According to Dr. Jeff Thompson, a researcher from the University of Southampton and co-author of the study, the connection between the body parts of echinoderms and those of other animal groups has been puzzling for scientists since the beginning of their study.
The body of bilateral relatives is separated into three sections: the head, trunk, and tail.
“Merely observing a starfish, it is not evident how these segments correspond to the anatomy of symmetrical creatures.”
In a recent research project, conducted by Laurent Formery and Professor Chris Lowe from Stanford University, researchers examined the biological information of a sea star in relation to other deuterostomes, a larger category of animals that includes echinoderms and bilateral animals such as vertebrates.
By examining their development, scientists could gain insight into the evolution of echinoderm bodies, as they share a common ancestor.
According to Dr. Thompson, when examining the gene expression of starfish in comparison to other animal groups such as vertebrates, it was found that a key aspect of the body structure was absent.
The genes responsible for shaping the body of the animal were not activated in the outer layer.
The overall structure of echinoderms appears to be similar to the head of other animal groups.
According to researchers, this indicates that sea stars and other echinoderms may have developed their five-part body structure by eliminating the middle section (trunk or torso) found in their bilateral predecessors.
This would have enabled them to have different movements and feeding patterns compared to animals with bilateral symmetry.
According to Dr. Thompson, our research indicates that the development of the echinoderm body structure was more intricate than previously believed, and there is still a lot to uncover about these fascinating animals.
“After a decade of studying them, these discoveries have greatly altered my perspective on this particular group of creatures.”
The results have been published in the journal Nature.