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UF scientists trace origin of shark's electric sense

ain and travel into the developing shark's head, creating the framework for the electrosensory system - a previously unknown function of a much-studied group of cells, according to Renata Freitas, a doctoral candidate in UF's zoology department and first author of the paper.

The process mirrors the development of the lateral line that allows fishto mechanically sense their environment, and organs of the inner ear that enable people to keep their balance. But scientists suspect as human ancestors emerged from the sea, they discarded their lateral lines as well as their ability to sense electrical fields.

"Our fishy ancestors had the anatomy for it," said James Albert, aformer UF biologist who is now at the University of Louisiana. "You can imagine how valuable this system would be if you were aquatic, because water is so conductive. But it doesn't work on land - air doesn't conduct electricity as well. When it happens, it's called a lightning bolt and you don't need special receptors to sense it."

All primitive animals with backbones could sense electricity, according to Michael Coates, an associate professor of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago. Mammals, reptiles and birds lost the sense over time, as did most fish alive today.

But in sharks and a few other species, such as sturgeons and lampreys, electrosensory capability endured.

"Most fish you see today have large eyes," Coates said. "But sharks arepredators that do not particularly rely on vision. If you see a hammerhead shark searching for flatfish, it moves its head back and forth, almost as if it were using a metal detector. Knowing that the electrosensory system may have developed with involvement of neural crest cells is valuable for people trying to reconstruct vertebrate evolution. It gives us further indication of how all of the various sensory systems come on line."

But the idea that the neural crest truly is the source of the e
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Source:University of Florida


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