Exceptional Evolution — How Fish Get Their Electric Powers

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Evolution is so awesome, it figured out how to give certain fish electric powers.

* 80 percent of electric fish body’s, like eels, is taken up by three organs made of what looks like muscle tissue, but not quite. This is where the animal makes electricity.

* According to a paper published today in Science, at least three of the six lineages evolved their electric organs through the same genetic pathways, inheriting the organ from a common ancestor.

* The electric organ discharge starts when the fish’s brain sends signals that release a neurotransmitter onto the electrocytes. This opens tiny molecular doors that allow positively-charged sodium ions to rush in, creating an electric current. Our brain cells operate by moving ions around in a similar way.

This research might have practical applications. Someday, scientists might be able to create electrocytes from human stem cells, which could power biomedical devices like pacemakers or insulin pumps.


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“Exceptional Evolution — How Fish Get Their Electric Powers”