Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Rare deep-sea starfish stuck in juvenile body plan

Janies applies sequencing, supercomputing to correct erroneous classification

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 (, 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 (

As tree-of-life analyses are computationally difficult, the current project is enabled by the computational muscle of OSC’s flagship system, the 9,500-node IBM 1350 Opteron “Glenn Cluster.”

“Last year, OSC deployed a $4 million expansion to the Glenn Cluster with a specific focus on supporting researchers, like Drs. Janies and Daly, in Ohio’s growing biosciences sector,” said Ashok Krishnamurthy, interim co-executive director of OSC. “The center provides a world-class computing environment for amazing bioscience research projects at places like OSU’s Department of Biomedical Informatics, the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and the Cleveland Clinic.”

The researchers examined both genetic and anatomical data to support their hypothesis, comparing Xyloplax with a total of 86 species representing major lineages of the five living classes of echinoderms (sea cucumbers, sea urchins, starfish, brittle stars, and sea lilies). For accurate comparisons, they applied several analytical methods to search for the shared mutations and changes in anatomy among the lineages.

The results describe the relationships in a phylogenetic tree representing the best-supported hypothesis on how Xyloplax evolved from other echinoderms. Phylogenetics is the study of the evolutionary relationships and changes among various biological species as they evolve from a common ancestor.

Prior to this study, molecular investigations of Xyloplax were limited, because specimens in two early collections in the 1980s were fixed in a solution which degrades DNA. Voight recently collected specimens of Xyloplax in the northeastern Pacific Ocean and carefully preserved them in ethanol. From these specimens, Daly was able to sequence several genes for Xyloplax. The newer specimens of Xyloplax also included several brooding females containing embryos, providing Janies with an unprecedented view of the creature’s early development.

Janies and colleagues theorize that Xyloplax differs from other starfish species because it is progenetic – that is, it has a rare, truncated life cycle that leaves the mature organism with features retained from its juvenile stages. For example, the arms of a starfish typically grow axially, like spokes of a wheel, as they develop from juveniles to adults, whereas Xyloplax grows along its circumference, like the wheel itself, and never develops arms.

“Irrespective of method or data sampling scheme, our results show that Xyloplax evolved from within starfish,” Janies concluded. “Xyloplax is just a little starfish that has a strange body plan and habitat, so strange that many could not recognize it as a starfish until we unlocked its genome and development.”

The Systematic Biology article is available online at: ijkey=JFlq6Bz3WkOSNqH&keytype=ref

The Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) addresses the rising computational demands of academic and industrial research communities by providing a robust shared infrastructure and proven expertise in advanced modeling, simulation and analysis. OSC empowers scientists with the vital resources essential to make extraordinary discoveries and innovations, partners with businesses and industry to leverage computational science as a competitive force in the global knowledge economy, and leads efforts to equip the workforce with the key technology skills required to secure 21st century jobs. For more, visit

Jamie Abel | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>