Scientists have found out where the starfish's head is hidden (6 photos)

Category: Nature, PEGI 0+
10 November 2023

For several centuries, biologists have been trying to understand where the head of starfish is. And now there is one less mystery.

Scientists have discovered that the body of starfish is an extension of their head.

According to an article published in the journal Nature, these unusual creatures have sections in each limb that resemble a head.

Genetic research shows starfish are heads without bodies

"The starfish appears to have no body at all and can be described as just a head crawling along the seafloor," says Laurent Formery, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University.

Unlike many animals, including insects, reptiles, birds, and mammals, which have bilateral body symmetry, starfish have radial symmetry.

The expert noted that the presence of bilateral symmetry facilitates the identification of the head, torso, and limbs.

Contrary to appearances, starfish are more genetically similar to humans than one might think.

"For a very long time we only had access to anatomy and morphology. And they are not very helpful in studying the starfish. Now we can focus on the molecular aspects of development."

Biologists plan to find out whether multiple heads can also contain multiple brains.

Scientists have carefully examined the genes that differ in individual sea star limbs.

They initially expected to find genes for the head and genes for the body, as in most animals.

However, only gene signatures associated with head development were identified.

According to co-author Jeff Thompson, a lecturer at the University of Southampton, the genes that code for the body are absent in the starfish.

Laurent expressed interest in further studying these creatures to see if their many heads could contain multiple brains.

He recalled: “The textbooks say that starfish have a fairly primitive nervous system, and that they don’t have a brain.”

The study found that some genes responsible for the development of the starfish nervous system coincide with genes involved in the process of brain formation in humans.

"Questions arise about what the starfish's nervous system is. And does it have a brain? Is it essentially just a brain?" - Laurent explains.

Starfish belong to the group of echinoderms, which also includes sea urchins and sea cucumbers.

Studying groups such as echinoderms can reveal some of the most complex mysteries surrounding the evolution of life on Earth.

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