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Blood Sucker: Like the adult heart, the developing heart takes advantage of suction

The embryonic heart, though only a simple tube, uses the same basic mechanism to move blood as an adult heart does, new observations in zebrafish suggest.

Adult hearts in vertebrates, such as zebrafish and people, pump blood using valves and muscle contractions to create suction, but the early heart in these animals is a valveless tube.

Nevertheless, this simple organ begins pumping blood when an embryo is just a few days old. Because of its austere anatomy, researchers long assumed that the developing heart uses a mechanism called peristalsis, in which a series of muscle contractions move material from one end of a tube to the other.

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