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For starlet sea anemones, more food means more arms
A new study finds that starlet sea anemones have the unique ability to grow more tentacles when they've got more to eat.
- These anemones belong to the Cnidaria phylum that continues developing through its lifespan.
- The starlet sea anemone may grow as many as 24 tentacles, providing there's enough food.
- When deprived of the chance to reproduce, they also grow more tentacles.
By now, you've probably worked out your personal go-to strategy for those times when you discover — a little bit too late — that you've eaten too much. Maybe you're the proactive type, arriving at the table in sweatpants. Otherwise, maybe a quick postprandial nap or a loosened belt is your thing. A new paper published in the journal Nature Communications describes the unique way that starlet sea anemones deal with extra food: They simply grow a pair of new tentacles, as if to make room.
Starlet sea anemone basics
Credit: Smithsonian Environmental Research Center/Flickr
The starlet sea anemone, or Nematostella vectensis, lives burrowed into the mud and silt of coastal salt marshes. Research suggests it's originally native to the east coast of North America, although it can also be found along the continent's west coast, around Nova Scotia, and in U.K. coastal marshes.
Being stationary creatures, starlet sea anemones have to reach out and grab nutrition floating by. Their natural diet is mainly copepods and midge larvae, though they're also perfectly happy eating brine shrimp in a laboratory setting. The anemones grab food with their tentacles whose cilia then wiggle the meal down to their mouths.
In the larval stage, the anemones have a quartet of tentacles, though they may develop up to 24 of them. A more typical amount is 16.
While the starlet sea anemone may grow larger in a lab setting, in the wild its clear, worm-like body typically extends from 10 to 19 millimeters (about three quarters of an inch) in length. Tentacles may add another 8 mm.
Members of the phylum to which the starlet sea anemone belongs, the Cnidaria phylum, have the unique ability to grow new body parts throughout their lives in response to environmental influences. Among these influences are fluctuations in the amount of available food. Nonetheless, no other animal has yet been seen growing new appendages when they get extra sustenance.
Tentacles budding, or not, under different feeding conditions
Credit: Ikmi, et al./Nature Briefing
Observations of starlet sea anemones in his lab prompted lead author of the paper, Aissam Ikmi of the European Molecular Biology Lab Heidelberg, to undertake the new research. He'd noticed what seemed to be an association between the amount of brine shrimp being consumed and the sprouting of new tentacles.
Ikmi and his team raised over 1,100 starlet sea anemone polyps to which they fed brine shrimp. Some of them began with 4 tentacles while the rest already had 16.
For over six months, the researchers varied the animals' food supply at cyclical intervals, feeding the anemones for a few days and then stopping for a few days.
The scientists tracked tentacle growth throughout the experiment, creating a spatio-temporal map that identified periods of tentacle growth in relation to feeding cycles.
They found that the anemones grew new tentacle pairs during feeding periods, and new tentacle production did indeed stop when their food supply was temporarily cut off. Tentacle-pair budding occurred at the same time as an anemone also doubled its body size.
"When food was available, however, primary polyps grew and sequentially initiated new tentacles in a nutrient-dependent manner, arresting at specific tentacle stages in response to food depletion." — Ikmi, et al.
Two ways to bud
In this illustration from the paper, development from 4 to 12 tentacles is characterized by trans budding. Cis budding is present beginning with 16 tentacles.
Credit: Ikmi, et al./Nature Briefing
The team identified two budding modalities, they named "cis" and "trans." In both modes, pairs of tentacles were produced, budding either simultaneously or consecutively. In:
- Trans budding — the two new tentacles budded on opposite sides of the anemone.
- Cis budding — the two new tentacles budded from within the same segment.
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How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.
- A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
- Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
- The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
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A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
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Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
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The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.