Washington: A molecule that enables starfish to carry out one of the most remarkable forms of feeding in the natural world has been identified.
A starfish feeds by first extending its stomach out of its mouth and over the digestible parts of its prey, such as mussels and clams. The prey tissue is partially digested externally before the soup-like " chowder" produced is drawn back into its 10 digestive glands.
The researchers at Queen Mary, University of London and the University of Warwick have discovered a neuropeptide- a molecule which carries signals between neurons- called NGFFYamide, which triggers the stomach to contract and retract back into the starfish.
The study was carried out using computer analysis of DNA sequence data, chemical analysis of starfish nerves and pharmacological tests.
Maurice Elphick, Professor of Physiology and Neuroscience at Queen Mary`s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences said that they have also found that the neuropeptide behind the stomach retraction is evolutionarily related to a neuropeptide that regulates anxiety and arousal in humans.
The study is published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.