Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

UF scientists trace origin of shark’s electric sense

08.02.2006


Sharks, people have electric connection in their lineage



Sharks are known for their almost uncanny ability to detect electrical signals while hunting and navigating.

Now researchers have traced the origin of those electrosensory powers to the same type of embryonic cells that gives rise to many head and facial features in humans.


The discovery, reported by University of Florida scientists in the current edition of Evolution & Development, identifies neural crest cells, which are common in vertebrate development, as a source of sharks’ electrical ESP.

It also fortifies the idea that before our early ancestors emerged from the sea, they too had the ability to detect electric fields.

"Sharks have a network of electrosensory cells that allows them to hunt by detecting electrical signals generated by prey," said Martin Cohn, a developmental biologist with the departments of zoology and anatomy and cell biology, and the UF Genetics Institute. "That doesn’t mean they can only detect electric fish. They can sense electricity generated by a muscle twitch, even if it’s the weak signal of a flounder buried under sand."

Likewise, sharks are widely thought to use the Earth’s magnetic field for navigation, enabling them to swim in precise paths across large expanses of featureless ocean, Cohn said.

"If you think of this in the big picture of evolution of sensory systems, such as olfaction, hearing, vision and touch, this shows sharks took a pre-existing genetic program and used it to build yet another type of sensory system," Cohn said.

UF and University of Louisiana researchers analyzed electroreceptor development in the embryos of the lesser spotted catshark, an animal that is largely motionless during the day and hunts at night, mainly in the seagrass beds of the eastern Atlantic Ocean.

Using molecular tests, scientists found two independent genetic markers of neural crest cells in the animal’s electricity-sensing organs. Analysis shows these cells migrate from the brain 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 fish to 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, a former 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 are predators 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 electrosensory system will raise eyebrows, scientists say.

"It’s a very interesting paper for two reasons," said Glenn Northcutt, a distinguished professor of neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego, and a leading expert in vertebrate neurobiology. "For the first time, someone has shown which molecules may be responsible for guiding the development of the receptors of the lateral line system. I think this will hold true and is a very important finding. But I’m skeptical about the claim the neural crest gives rise to electroreceptors. It still requires a definitive experiment, where the developing neural crest cells are marked with dye, the embryo develops and the dye clearly shows up in the electroreceptors."

Dye tests are a classical way of mapping cell movements during development, and have been used to explore the origins of limbs and brain cells. In the current research, scientists used genetic markers to trace neural crest cells.

"Dye labeling would be interesting and further test the idea that electroreceptors contain neural crest cells," Cohn said.

John Pastor | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.health.ufl.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity
22.09.2017 | DFG-Forschungszentrum für Regenerative Therapien TU Dresden

nachricht The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet
22.09.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity

22.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Penn first in world to treat patient with new radiation technology

22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering

Calculating quietness

22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>