A new study conducted by researchers at Stanford University has shed light on the mysterious body layout of starfish. The study used genetic and molecular tools to create a 3D atlas of gene expressions in starfish, revealing that the “head” of a starfish is not located in one specific place. Instead, headlike regions are distributed throughout the body, both in the center of the starfish and in each limb. This surprising finding suggests that the evolution of starfish is even more complex than previously thought. Starfish, also known as sea stars, belong to a group of animals called echinoderms, which are closely related to humans. However, their life cycle and anatomy are very different from ours. Sea stars start as fertilized eggs that hatch into free-floating larvae. These larvae then undergo a transformation into adults with a five-point star shape called a pentaradial body plan. The researchers used molecular markers and techniques such as RNA tomography and in situ hybridization to map out the gene expressions in starfish tissue. This research provides valuable insights into the evolution of different body plans in animals and highlights the importance of studying a wide range of biodiversity. The study was funded by NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Chan Zuckerberg BioHub.


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