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High-throughput segmentation, data visualization, and analysis of sea star skeletal networks

  • The remarkably complex skeletal systems of the sea stars (Echinodermata, Asteroidea), consisting of hundreds to thousands of individual elements (ossicles), have intrigued investigators for more than 150 years. While the general features and structural diversity of isolated asteroid ossicles have been well documented in the literature, the task of mapping the spatial organization of these constituent skeletal elements in a whole-animal context represents an incredibly laborious process, and as such, has remained largely unexplored. To address this unmet need, particularly in the context of understanding structure-function relationships in these complex skeletal systems, we present an integrated approach that combines micro-computed tomography, semi-automated ossicle segmentation, data visualization tools, and the production of additively manufactured tangible models to reveal biologically relevant structural data that can be rapidly analyzed in an intuitive manner. In the present study, we demonstrate this high-throughput workflow by segmenting and analyzing entire skeletal systems of the giant knobby star, Pisaster giganteus, at four different stages of growth. The in-depth analysis, presented herein, provides a fundamental understanding of the three-dimensional skeletal architecture of the sea star body wall, the process of skeletal maturation during growth, and the relationship between skeletal organization and morphological characteristics of individual ossicles. The widespread implementation of this approach for investigating other species, subspecies, and growth series has the potential to fundamentally improve our understanding of asteroid skeletal architecture and biodiversity in relation to mobility, feeding habits, and environmental specialization in this fascinating group of echinoderms.
Author:Lara Tomholt, Daniel BaumORCiD, Robert J. Wood, James C. Weaver
Document Type:Article
Parent Title (English):Journal of Structural Biology
First Page:107955
Year of first publication:2023
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