From August 2009 to August 2010 I worked as a post-doc in the lab of Dr. Veronica Hinman at Carnegie Mellon University. Basically, I studied the evolution of gene regulatory networks (GRNs). Specifically, our lab focused on looking at GRNs in the context of development using the wonderful sea critters in the phylum Echinodermata. For those of you not in the know, the “spiny-skinned” echinoderms are the asteroids (starfish/sea stars), ophiuroids (brittle stars), echinoids (sea urchins), holothuroids (sea cucumbers), and crinoids (feather stars, sea lillies and such).
In celebration, I spent a fair bit of time getting back to my art roots creating the above cladogram in the sand of the Echinoderm phylum.
I spent a while trying to find time-lapses or animations of starfish development online, to no avail. Thus I spent a week of much needed downtime to create this computer animation using Blender: (note – you can also watch it in High Definition on youtube).
NOTE: The details of the actual metamorphosis of the rudiment into the juvenile are not accurate – it’s quite hard to animate these types of changes – and to be honest I had not actually seen these creatures in the flesh. But it’s good enough to get a good idea of how the whole developmental process occurs in this type of sea star.