Sea stars, also scientifically referred to as starfish, have captivated researchers with their unique body structure. A recent genetic study led by Laurent Formery from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, challenges the conventional understanding of sea stars. Published in Nature, the study, enabled by advanced genetic sequencing, presents a groundbreaking revelation: sea stars are essentially walking heads without torsos or tails. This genetic exploration prompts a reassessment of our comprehension of these intriguing marine creatures, unveiling evolutionary changes over time.

Belonging to the echinoderm group alongside sea urchins and sea cucumbers, sea stars boast a distinctive body plan featuring five equal sections, diverging from the typical bilateral symmetry seen in most animals. To decipher the genetic complexities of sea stars, the study utilized cutting-edge techniques, including microcomputed tomography scanning. This technology facilitated the creation of a detailed 3D map of genetic expression during sea stars’ development. Results uncovered the presence of genes associated with head development throughout the body, challenging long-standing assumptions and sparking a reexamination of the evolutionary history of these captivating marine creatures. This discovery not only sheds light on Earth’s life evolution but also expands our understanding of biology, prompting questions about echinoderms’ distinct body plans and their common ancestry with other animals. Exploring sea stars’ secrets takes us on a journey to uncover the intricacies of ocean ecosystems, offering potential contributions to ecological and biomedical advancements.