Discover How Starfish Babies Turn Themselves into Living Crystals!

Swarms of migrating animals are among the major attractions of Africa, such as the wildebeests, zebras, elephants, and buffalos. They all appear to move in harmony, in amazing unity.

Up in the heavens, you can see flocks of flamingos, shorebirds, robins, and pigeons. Though, especially awe-inspiring is the murmuration of starlings — thousands of these birds swooping, swirling, flying gracefully together like a troupe of ballerinas across the evening sky.

Photo: YouTube/Nature Video

Then, there’s the sardine run, an underwater attraction that is also mesmerizing to watch.

And yet, there’s another incredible biological phenomenon that you can only view under a microscope — the congregation of starfish embryos in the shapes of crystals!

Yes, you have seen a lot of animals grouping together whether in migration or in flight — some of them like the starlings, moving in perfect harmony. But you have not seen any of these animal groups adopting a crystalline form while they fly, run, or swim.

Photo: YouTube/Nature Video

Of course, there’s the V-shaped formation of geese, swans, cranes, ducks, and some other migratory birds. But, not as a crystal.

Now, for the first time, a team of scientists — Tzer Han Tan at Harvard University, Alexander Mietke at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and their colleagues — discovered how one type of multi-cellular organisms is capable of forming into living crystals as they spin and congregate together.

“Our experimental observations show how, over the course of their natural development, thousands of swimming embryos come together to form living chiral crystal structures that persist for many hours,” said the authors of this new study about starfish embryos.

They observed how from rapidly dividing fertilized cells, hours-old starfish embryos begin to spin in the same direction and rise to the water surface to form hexagonal clusters.

Photo: YouTube/Nature Video

“Over time, these clusters grow into larger crystals, reaching sizes of hundreds to thousands of embryos and persisting for tens of hours,” added the authors.

As the starfish embryos develop, their crystal forms dissolve, and each organism continues to grow individually.

What mystifies the team is why starfish embryos have to come together in such large numbers. And what is the significance of their crystalline formation to their growth?

The authors are excited to find out more about this biological phenomenon and how this discovery can further broaden their study of active matter.

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