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Enigmatic sea urchin structure catalogued

A comprehensive investigation into the axial complex of sea urchins (Echinoidea), an internal structure with unknown function, has shown that within that group of marine invertebrates there exists a structural evolutionary interdependence of various internal organs.

The research, published in BioMed Central's open access journal Frontiers in Zoology, demonstrates that the approach of combining all structural data available on a given organ in combination with a broad taxonomic coverage can yield novel insights into the evolution of internal organ systems.

Alexander Ziegler, from Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin, led a team of researchers who used a high-resolution non-invasive imaging technique (magnetic resonance imaging) to compare the structure of the axial complex of specimens from almost all sea urchin orders. These data were extended with invasive techniques such as dissection, histology and transmission electron microscopy.

Based on the available data, a re-evaluation of published studies spanning almost two centuries became possible. In their combined review/original article type manuscript, Ziegler and co-workers point out, "This kind of study is very powerful in elucidating interdependent anatomical relationships that are not obvious when the analysis is carried out only with a few species".

As well as presenting their exhaustive analysis of the architecture of the echinoid axial complex, Ziegler and his colleagues suggest a list of definitions and provide a multilingual compilation for echinoid axial complex components. According to the researchers, "This should limit the confusion caused by the bewildering range of terminology applied by different authors and in different languages to the same anatomical entities".

1. Comparative morphology of the axial complex and interdependence of internal organ systems in sea urchins (Echinodermata: Echinoidea)
Alexander Ziegler, Cornelius Faber and Thomas Bartolomaeus
Frontiers in Zoology (in press)
2. A striking picture of one of the sea urchins studied is available here:
Species: Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. Please credit 'Ziegler et al., Frontiers in Zoology'.

3. Frontiers in Zoology is an Open Access, peer-reviewed, online journal publishing high quality research articles and reviews on all aspects of animal life. It is the first Open Access journal focussing on zoology as a whole. It aims to represent and re-unite the various disciplines that look at animal life from different perspectives and at providing the basis for a comprehensive understanding of zoological phenomena on all levels of analysis. Frontiers in Zoology provides a unique opportunity to publish high quality research and reviews on zoological issues that will be internationally accessible to any reader at no cost.

4. BioMed Central ( is an STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher which has pioneered the open access publishing model. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. BioMed Central is part of Springer Science+Business Media, a leading global publisher in the STM sector.

Graeme Baldwin | EurekAlert!
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