The location of the head of a starfish has long been a mystery. Overthrowing every possible idea, scientists have made a discovery that's both bewildering and astonishing!
A starfish seems to entice many people for two reasons. One being its distinct and vibrant appearance and the second being the mystery of its structure. Many have thought hard and long about where a starfish’s head could possibly be considering its unique body shape. While it has been a mystery for ages, scientists have now come up with an answer. Recently, Nature published a paper solving the mystery of the starfish’s head. They determined the creatures to be zoological puzzles and shared that contrary to the belief of many, starfish don’t have heads in the center of their bodies. Business Insider further simplified the findings and reported that the sea creatures have head-like structures in each of their limbs.
Having spoken to the lead author of the study, Laurent Formery, the article shared more about the mystery which he revealed “dates back to the beginning of zoology.” He then explained why it took as long as it did to unfold. The major reason was to do with the symmetry and structuring of the starfish. While majority of animals have a bilateral symmetry, Formery pointed out that “starfish are so different.” He further mentioned that bilateral symmetry aids in research and understanding the complexities of animals. However, starfish have a five-fold radial symmetry making it all the more difficult to study and comprehend.
Formery mentioned that when it comes to a starfish, “nothing looks like your normal head.” He further revealed that he and his team studied the genetic code of the starfish which helped them understand which part of their body grows from which area. On further study and in-depth research, Formery and his team were able to identify head-like genes in each of the individual limbs of the starfish. Jeff Thompson, the co-author of the project shared that contrary to their thinking, they did not find trunk-like genes within the creatures as they do in other animals. It was only the genes associated with the head that were present in the limbs.
“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 lead study author Laurent Formery, postdoctoral scholar at Stanford Universityhttps://t.co/onyBALlIrT— Sherrie (@kitnlov1) November 7, 2023
Startling the researchers themselves, Formery mentioned that it was a “weird” discovery and they had never envisioned something so unusual. The next big question is whether starfish possess multiple brains in their heads. The scientist and his team are on their way to unraveling that mystery as well. In a X (formerly Twitter) post, Formery explained in layman's terms with a picture of Patrick, the starfish from the famous cartoon "Spongebob Square Pants": “We found that none of the classical hypotheses matched with our observations.” With the iconic starfish character Patrick, who has eyes and a head on one of his limbs, Formerly pointed out, “This is not an accurate model.”
We found that none of the classical hypotheses matched with our observations. Instead, we proposed a model in which the anteroposterior patterning program is deployed along the medio-lateral axis of the arms - pic.twitter.com/b7Y1iUAXhQ— Laurent Formery (@FormeryLaurent) November 1, 2023
Further in the article, he explained, “When you look at textbooks, they say sea stars have a very simple nervous system and it's like they don't have a brain.” However, with the efforts and research so far, they found out that some of the genes responsible for developing a sea star's nervous system were also "the genes that are involved during our own development to make the brain." So while many believed that a starfish’s head is possibly at the center of their bodies, their actual heads are all over the place. Formery greatly appreciates the aid of modern technology during their research. They have made remarkable progress with disclosing the structure of a starfish and with the many questions and curiosity peaking, there’s more to come.
Our study investigating the hidden molecular anatomy of sea stars is now published @Nature !!🥳https://t.co/6qJkrc7U1z— Laurent Formery (@FormeryLaurent) November 1, 2023
We looked at a long standing zoological problem: how to compare the pentaradial symmetry of echinoderms with the bilateral symmetry of their relatives?