The best-known feature of the pufferfish is its round shape which gave it the name, among other things. Among the other undoubtedly interesting features that this animal boasts there are the teeth similar to a beak and an extremely reduced skeleton.
However, this fish also has another very interesting feature: its skin has several pointed structures similar to real spines. The formation of the latter has always been a mystery but now new research, which appeared on iScience, clarifies this aspect.
These spines only form in certain areas of the body instead of scales, as stated by Gareth Fraser, a researcher at the University of Florida and the author of the study. Following the development of these spines already from the embryos, Fraser and colleagues discovered that these spines can be considered as unique and not a mere evolutionary deformation of the scales.
The genes that make these spines develop on the body of the fish can, in fact, be combined with genes that develop feathers and hair in other vertebrate animals. And this is a fact that has surprised Fraser himself: although there are enormous morphological differences, for example, between a puffer and a bird, in both species the development still uses the same gene networks to develop, in this case, of skin structures.
Researchers have also come to make the discovery using CRISPR: with this technique they have blocked those genes that make these skin appendages develop in fish. By blocking them, they realized that the number of spines on the body of the puffer decreased.
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