Sea stars, scientifically known as starfish, have fascinated scientists due to their unconventional body structure. Led by Laurent Formery from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, a recent genetic study challenges the traditional belief that sea stars adhere to a typical animal design. This groundbreaking research, detailed in Nature, reveals that sea stars are essentially walking heads without torsos or tails. Enabled by advanced genetic sequencing, the study indicates evolutionary changes over time, prompting a reassessment of our comprehension of these intriguing marine creatures.

Belonging to the echinoderm group alongside sea urchins and sea cucumbers, sea stars exhibit a unique body plan characterized by five equal sections, differing from the bilateral symmetry observed in most animals. To unravel the genetic intricacies of sea stars, the study employed cutting-edge techniques, including microcomputed tomography scanning. This technology allowed scientists to construct a detailed 3D map of genetic expression in sea stars as they developed. The results unveiled the presence of genes associated with head development throughout the body, while genes linked to torsos and tails were notably absent, challenging longstanding assumptions and prompting a reexamination of the evolutionary history of these captivating marine creatures. This newfound understanding not only sheds light on the mysteries of life’s evolution on Earth but also broadens our biological perspective. It raises intriguing questions about the unique body plans of echinoderms and their shared ancestry with other animals. As we uncover the secrets of sea stars, we embark on a journey to explore the complexities of the ocean’s ecosystems and gain insights that may contribute to both ecological and biomedical advancements.