What Is the Sea Cucumber’s Bizarre Defense Mechanism?
Despite its name, the sea cucumber isn't a cucumber at all. It’s not a vegetable or even a plant. It’s a spineless marine animal, somewhat similar to starfish and sea urchins, but without the hardened calcium exoskeleton. Along with its unusual appearance, the sea cucumber's most notable feature is arguably its defense mechanism: When threatened, this soft and squishy creature will eject its intestines through either its mouth or anus, depending on the species. It literally spills its guts.
Perhaps even more bizarre is the fact that a sea cucumber can regrow those intestines in just a couple of weeks. In 2017, researchers successfully sequenced the creature’s genome to find out how they do that.
Way more interesting than a "real" cucumber:
- Researchers found two sets of genes that could be responsible for the sea cucumber's regenerative abilities. They also determined that sea cucumbers evolutionarily split off from their cousins – sea stars and sea urchins – about 479 million years ago.
- The main focus of the research was to better understand these animals and their role in human consumption. Some Chinese restaurants use sea cucumbers in their delicacies, either dried or deep-fried, and the animal is bred at commercial fisheries.
- In addition, researchers hope to learn more about the sea cucumber’s ability to re-grow body parts, which might someday have applications in regenerative medicine for humans.
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