Category Archives: brittle stars

Will we get DNA from our faded stars?

We have done substantial amounts of COI barcoding on various animal groups through the MIWA-project. You can find all the specimens that we have submitted for barcoding here. Of the Echinodermata we have previously submitted Echinoids (sea urchins) and Ophiuroids (brittle stars). Currently we are focusing on the class Asteroidea, the sea stars.

There were not terribly many sea stars in our material, and all of the Asteroids were identified when we had asteroid specialist Anna Dilman visiting last spring.

Part of this material is fixated in ethanol and therefore available for genetic work, and we’ve been waiting for some more material to come along so that we would have enough samples to fill the 95 wells in a plate for barcoding and uploading to the BOLD-database. Now we’ve gotten some supplemental material, and are preparing a plate of mainly Asteroidea. We are also including a few brittle stars, as we had six Gorgonocephalidae (basket stars) waiting to be barcoded, and they are plain too cool to pass up. We did a blog post about basket stars in our InvertebrateCalendar, click here to read more about the head of the Medusa.

Why “faded”? Well, in real life they are amazingly beautiful critters, looking something like this:

By Philippe Guillaume - Flickr, CC BY 2.0,

By Philippe Guillaume – Flickr, CC BY 2.0,

But once a specimen of the same species – this is a Astropecten aranciacushas been dragged up by a trawl and marinated in ethanol for a while, it looks  more like this:

Astropecten aranciacus from Sao Tome & Principe, collected at 54 m depth

Astropecten aranciacus from Sao Tome & Principe, collected at 54 m depth

Thankfully, the colour loss does not mean that the animal is “ruined” – it still retains its key identifying characters and DNA – they just looks a bit less exiting for us non-sea-star-experts!

The cast of characters so far - there's a few waiting to be photographed still

The cast of characters so far – there’s a few waiting to be photographed still

We’ll finish in the “photo booth” and get the tissue sampling done over the next couple of days, and hopefully our faded stars will shine (as barcode vouchers) after all!

Stay tuned for updates.

Mapping our barcoding efforts

Here is a  interactive map of all the samples (2175 as we speak!) that we have submitted to the BOLD-database for genetic barcoding.

You can also  follow this link to find it.

miwa stations

All the stations from which we have submitted specimens for barcoding

By clicking around on the map you can see how many specimens we have submitted from each station, as well as photos of the animals and wether or not the sequencing was successful and resulted in a genetic barcode.

zoomed in

By clicking on a station, you get the information about which animals have been sequenced – here two brittle stars that were both successfully barcoded











The samples we have submitted (so far – there are still plans to do more!) include several animal main taxa; Crustaceans, Echinoderms, Molluscs and Polychaetes. These animals have been sorted out and identified by employees at the invertebrate collections, and by visiting guest researchers who have come here to work in the material – so it is very much a combined effort behind this.

# of submitted specimens (animals) from each phylum

# of submitted specimens (animals) from each phylum

Not all our material is suited for genetic analyses; fixation in formaldehyde gives well preserved specimens that are well suited for morphological examinations – which is the backbone of taxonomy – but it distorts the DNA so that the samples are not eligible for molecular work.
Provided that the material has been fixated in a DNA-friendly way (i.e. in ethanol), there is a lot of work to be done before we are left with identified specimens. We wrote a bit about the sorting of samples her: “biodiversity in a dish”.

We are still working actively with this material and with the results we are getting – some of it has already been published – se our list of publications here – and more is on the way.


Following the workshop on the brittle stars – the Ophiuroidea – that we arranged earlier this fall, we have a lot of samples that have been selected for DNA barcoding. These are in the pipeline for photographing, and the photographer is currently seeing stars…

Below is a sample of the animals, each animal is photographed twice; dorsal and ventral view.

Brittle stars

Brittle stars en masse – we plan on filling two plates this time around, so in total there will be 380 photograps.

Twinkle, twinkle, brittle star. How I wonder what you are –

The brittle stars are a fascinating group of animals with about 2000 known species. Quite a few species have been identified from the MIWA material and we are trying to compare the African shelf fauna with that of the northern Atlantic. Initial DNA-barcoding has returned some puzzling results and we needed another look on some of the problematic individuals. Fortunately, two researchers with very special knowledge of the brittle stars were able to join us in an identification workshop during the last week of November.
Øyidis Alme did her master study on brittle stars and she was joined by Sabine Stöhr from the Natural History Museum of Stockholm for a three days session over the microscopes. Sabine is a respected specialist on the brittle stars and maintains The World Ophiuroidea Database:

Samples to be checked