A molecule in starfish has been found to enable them to feed in a way that is one of the most remarkable forms of food found in nature. When a starfish feeds it extends its stomach out of its mouth over its prey, such as mussels or clams, making sure there is no digestion involved. In this process, the prey tissue is partially digested externally before being drawn back into its 10 digestive glands in the form of soup-like “chowder.” In recent research, researchers at Queen Mary, University of London and the University of Warwick discovered a neuropeptide called NGFFYamide that prompts the starfish stomach to contract and retract into the body. Through the discovery of a potential mechanism to control starfish predation, the findings may have economic and environmental implications.

The research was led by Professor Maurice Elphick, Professor of Physiology and Neuroscience at Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences. Elphick shared that these findings may help design strategies to control starfish feeding. As starfish feed on important shellfish, such as mussels and clams, starfish predation has an economic impact.

The following was added by Professor Elphick Our results also show that the neuropeptide responsible for the stomach retraction is evolutionarily related to one that controls anxiety and arousal in humans.” These findings build on previous research from the Queen Mary team that identified SALMFamides, which trigger stomach relaxation and eversion.