Electric eels are fascinating animals, not only because they look pretty cool, but also because they can generate electricity and deliver shocks of up to 600 volts. But they’re not the only fish that can produce electric fields, and recently, research at the University of Wisconsin, Madison has yielded some surprising information about the evolution of this ability- and what it could mean for other species.
Researchers analyzed the genes of the electric eel as well as other electric fish from unrelated families. It appears that there are a limited number of ways to evolve electric organs, and in at least six different fish, their electric organs evolved in the same way.
So… why should we care? By understanding the way electric organs were created through evolution, scientists may be able to gain the information needed to one day create electric organs in humans or other other animals. The zebrafish, a commonly used research animal, may play a role in attempts at this type of modification. If humans were able to have electric organs, they could possibly serve to power pacemakers, neurostimulators, or other implanted medical devices. Read more about it here:
How did the zebra REALLY get those stripes? By studying zebraFISH, we might be able to figure it out! And these distinctive color patterns have a pretty interesting explanation.
In certain zebrafish, the two skin cells involved in striping are called melanophores and xanthophores. And they behave like magnets! When they come in contact with one another, melanophores move away and the xanthophores chase them down. This cell interaction creates a separation between the different pigmented cells- and a beautiful distinctive striped skin pattern!
This phenomenon wasn’t seen in the skin of a type of zebrafish with ‘fuzzier’ stripes, only in zebrafish with distinct stripes. Further research investigating the gene mutations involved in the proteins in pigmented cells’ membranes might explain distinct patterns in other animals, too. Cheetahs, zebras, dalmatians- think of all the animals we could learn about with the help of this little fish! Check out the video in the link to SEE these cells chasing and running away from each other, it’s pretty cool.