The molecular nature of tumours is well studied in vertebrates, although their evolutionary origin remains unknown. In particular, there is no evidence for naturally occurring tumours in pre-bilaterian animals, such as sponges and cnidarians. This is somewhat surprising given that recent computational studies have predicted that most metazoans might be prone to develop tumours. Here we provide first evidence for naturally occurring tumours in two species of Hydra. Histological, cellular and molecular data reveal that these tumours are transplantable and might originate by differentiation arrest of female gametes. Growth of tumour cells is independent from the cellular environment. Tumour-bearing polyps have significantly reduced fitness. In addition, Hydra tumours show a greatly altered transcriptome that mimics expression shifts in vertebrate cancers. Therefore, this study shows that spontaneous tumours have deep evolutionary roots and that early branching animals may be informative in revealing the fundamental mechanisms of tumorigenesis.
The nervous systems of cnidarians, pre-bilaterian animals that diverged close to the base of the metazoan radiation, are structurally simple and thus have great potential to inform us about basic structural and functional principles of neural circuits. Unfortunately, cnidarians have thus far been relatively intractable to electrophysiological and genetic techniques and consequently have been largely passed over by neurobiologists. However, recent advances in molecular and imaging methods are fueling a renaissance of interest in and research into cnidarians nervous systems. Here, we review current knowledge on the nervous systems of some cnidarian species and propose that researchers should seize this opportunity and undertake the study of this phylum as strategic experimental systems with great basic and translational relevance for neuroscience.
Spontaneous contractile activity, such as gut peristalsis, is ubiquitous in animals and is driven by pacemaker cells. In humans, disruption of the contraction pattern leads to gastrointestinal conditions, which are also associated with gut microbiota dysbiosis. Spontaneous contractile activity is also present in animals lacking gastrointestinal tract. Here we show that spontaneous body contractions in Hydra are modulated by symbiotic bacteria. Germ-free animals display strongly reduced and less regular contraction frequencies. These effects are partially restored by reconstituting the natural microbiota. Moreover, soluble molecule(s) produced by symbiotic bacteria may be involved in contraction frequency modulation. As the absence of bacteria does not impair the contractile ability itself, a microbial effect on the pacemakers seems plausible. Our findings indicate that the influence of bacteria on spontaneous contractile activity is present in the early-branching cnidarian hydra as well as in Bilateria, and thus suggest an evolutionary ancient origin of interaction between bacteria and metazoans, opening a window into investigating the roots of human motility disorders.
Ecological developmental biology (eco-devo) explores the mechanistic relationships between the processes of individual development and environmental factors. Recent studies imply that some of these relationships have deep evolutionary origins, and may even predate the divergences of the simplest extant animals, including cnidarians and sponges. Development of these early diverging metazoans is often sensitive to environmental factors, and these interactions occur in the context of conserved signaling pathways and mechanisms of tissue homeostasis whose detailed molecular logic remain elusive. Efficient methods for transgenesis in cnidarians together with the ease of experimental manipulation in cnidarians and sponges make them ideal models for understanding causal relationships between environmental factors and developmental mechanisms. Here, we identify major questions at the interface between animal evolution and development and outline a road map for research aimed at identifying the mechanisms that link environmental factors to developmental mechanisms in early diverging metazoans.
How multicellular organisms assess and control their size is a fundamental question in biology, yet the molecular and genetic mechanisms that control organ or organism size remain largely unsolved. The freshwater polyp Hydra demonstrates a high capacity to adapt its body size to different temperatures. Here we identify the molecular mechanisms controlling this phenotypic plasticity and show that temperature-induced cell number changes are controlled by Wnt- and TGF-β signaling. Further we show that insulin-like peptide receptor (INSR) and forkhead box protein O (FoxO) are important genetic drivers of size determination controlling the same developmental regulators. Thus, environmental and genetic factors directly affect developmental mechanisms in which cell number is the strongest determinant of body size. These findings identify the basic mechanisms as to how size is regulated on an organismic level and how phenotypic plasticity is integrated into conserved developmental pathways in an evolutionary informative model organism.
Here we evaluate our current understanding of the function of the nervous system in Hydra, a non-bilaterian animal which is among the first metazoans that contain neurons. We highlight growing evidence that the nervous system, with its rich repertoire of neuropeptides, is involved in controlling resident beneficial microbes. We also review observations that indicate that microbes affect the animal's behavior by directly interfering with neuronal receptors. These findings provide new insight into the original role of the nervous system, and suggest that it emerged to orchestrate multiple functions including host-microbiome interactions. The excitement of future research in the Hydra model now relies on uncovering the common rules and principles that govern the interaction between neurons and microbes and the extent to which such laws might apply to other and more complex organisms.
The extent to which disturbances in the resident microbiota can compromise an animal's health is poorly understood. Hydra is one of the evolutionary oldest animals with naturally occurring tumors. Here, we found a causal relationship between an environmental spirochete (Turneriella spec.) and tumorigenesis in Hydra. Unexpectedly, virulence of this pathogen requires the presence of Pseudomonas spec., a member of Hydra´s beneficial microbiome indicating that dynamic interactions between a resident bacterium and a pathogen cause tumor formation. The observation points to the crucial role of commensal bacteria in maintaining tissue homeostasis and adds support to the view that microbial community interactions are essential for disease. These findings in an organism that shares deep evolutionary connections with all animals have implications for our understanding of cancer.
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