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Volume 623 Issue 7987, 16 November 2023

Star system

Most animals have bilateral body symmetry — a head at one end, a tail at the other and a single axis of symmetry running from top to bottom. But echinoderms such as starfish and sea urchins are different: they have five-fold symmetry, with five limbs radiating from a central mouth. In this week’s issue, Laurent Formery and his colleagues reveal how this unusual body plan evolved. The researchers used RNA tomography to map gene-expression patterns in the bat star (Patiria miniata), pictured on the cover. They found that genes for head-like structures are expressed along the midline of each limb, and those that relate to tail-like structures are expressed in the small, tube-like feet on the edges of each limb. The starfish also lack genes that specify the trunk in bilateral creatures. As a result, the researchers suggest that echinoderms are mostly head-like animals.

Cover image: Laurent Formery/Chris Lowe

This Week

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