Geo News

All in their heads

Starfish seem like creatures of many limbs—but it turns out they’re just heads. In a growing young starfish, or sea star, the genetic signs for “head” are nearly everywhere, researchers found, while genes encoding torso and tail are largely absent. “It’s as if the sea star is completely missing a trunk, and is best described as just a head crawling along the seafloor,” said Laurent Formery, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and lead author of the new study. Most animals feature a familiar head-to-tail body plan, making the starfish a puzzling outlier and object of scientific fascination. High-tech molecular methods, including fluorescent staining (pictured), revealed the starfish’s hidden heady nature. Next, researchers want to see if sea cucumbers and sea urchins have the same head-driven genetic programming.

Contributor

Ellen Rykers

Ellen Rykers is an award-winning writer curious about all things weird and wonderful. With a background in science, her work has taken her from tropical rainforests to the icy shores of Antarctica. Based north of Auckland, she enjoys crafting compelling yarns about people, wildlife and research from across Aotearoa.

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