Echinoderms in the News

In late August, 2001, the journal 'Nature' published a ground breaking article on calcitic microlenses found in the ophiuroid Ophiocoma wendtii.

Submitted by Gordon Hendler

Courtesy Gordon Hendler

The "Nature" paper describes a remarkable experiment that characterizes the crystalline microlenses on the arms of Ophiocoma wendtii, and discusses some implications of their optical properties, including the potential for a compound eye system in echinoderms. It is sweet confirmation of the hypothesis of a brittle star photoreceptor system that I proposed after my discovery of color-change in ophiocomids. It's also a testiment to the talents of my collaborators, Maria Byrne and Jim Cobb. Their contributions substantiated the interactions between skeleton, chromatophores, and nerves that are responsible for Ophiocoma's sensitivity to light, and set the stage for the publication by Aizenberg et al.

SEM of a whole mount of the dorsal arm plate of Ophiocoma wendtii showing microlenses. Courtesy of Gordon Hendler.

SEM of a cross section of the dorsal arm plate of Ophiocoma wendtii. Courtesy of Gordon Hendler

Close up SEM of the dorsal arm plate of Ophiocoma wendtii, showing details of microlens system. Courtesy of Gordon Hendler.

Aizenberg, J., Tkachenko, A., Weiner, S., Addadi, L. & Hendler, G.Calcitic microlenses as part of the photoreceptor system in brittlestars. Nature, 412, 819 - 822, (2001).

Selected links:

Eyes in their stars from "Nature"

Museum Biologist's belief that certain brittlestars have "eyes" is correct from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Seeing the Brittlestar in a New Light from National Public Radio

Marine creature's ''lenses'' light way for Bell Labs by Reuters and digitalMass.com