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Shocking! Scientists Unravel Mysteries of Electric Eel

Genetic studies have revealed how electric fish developed an organ that can unleash a wicked jolt.
Image: Electric eel
Genetic studies have unraveled the secrets behind the world's electric fish.Reuters
/ Source: Reuters

Researchers on Thursday unveiled a genetic blueprint of the electric eel — a fearsome denizen of South America that can zap you with an electric field of up to 600 volts — as well as detailed genetic data on two other types of electric fish. Even though six groups of electric fish have evolved independently in far-flung locales like the muddy waters of the Amazon and murky marine environments, they all seem to have reached into the same "genetic toolbox" to fashion their electricity-generating organ, they said. The new study found that various electric fish rely on the same genes and biological pathways to build their electric organs from skeletal muscle despite the different appearance and body location of their organs. Their electrical abilities stand as one of the wonders of nature alongside traits like bioluminescence in some insects and sea creatures and echolocation in bats and whales. "It really is something truly unique in the animal kingdom," Michigan State University zoology professor Jason Gallant said. The study was published in the journal Science.

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