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Study: Rare deep-sea starfish stuck in juvenile body plan
Date:5/2/2011

A team of scientists has combined embryological observations, genetic sequencing, and supercomputing to determine that a group of small disk-shaped animals that were once thought to represent a new class of animals are actually starfish that have lost the large star-shaped, adult body from their life cycle.

In a paper for the journal Systematic Biology (sysbio.oxfordjournals.org), Daniel Janies, Ph.D., a computational biologist in the department of Biomedical Informatics at The Ohio State University (OSU), leveraged computer systems at the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) to help support his contention that class-level status of Xyloplax does not reflect their evolutionary history.

"Although Xyloplax does not represent a new class, it an even more interesting animal now because it represents a rare example of how natural selection can shape the whole the life cycle," he explained. "By omitting the large adult stage, Xylopax found how to make a living in the nooks and crannies of sunken timbers on the deep-sea floor."

Janies collaborated on the paper with co-authors Janet R. Voight, Ph.D., in the department of Zoology at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, and Marymegan Daly, Ph.D., in the department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology at Ohio State.

Janies and his colleagues are examining echinoderms starfish, sea urchins and their close relatives as part of a study for the United States' National Science Foundation's Assembling the Tree of Life project. Several OSU scientists, including Janies and Daly, have won these grants, typically valued at $3 million over five years, to better understand the interrelationships of all forms of life (http://echinotol.org).

As tree-of-life analyses are computationally difficult, the current project is enabled by the computational muscle of OSC's f
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Contact: Jamie Abel
jabel@osc.edu
614-292-6495
Ohio Supercomputer Center
Source:Eurekalert  

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