Understanding the evolution of development in large part relies on the study of phylogenetically old organisms. Cnidarians, such as Hydra, have become attractive model organisms for these studies. However, despite long-term efforts, stably transgenic animals could not be generated, severely limiting the functional analysis of genes. Here we report the efficient generation of transgenic Hydra lines by embryo microinjection. One of these transgenic lines expressing EGFP revealed remarkably high motility of individual endodermal epithelial cells during morphogenesis. We expect that transgenic Hydra will become important tools to dissect the molecular mechanisms of development at the base of the Metazoan tree.EGFP
How distinct stem cell populations originate and whether there is a clear stem cell "genetic signature" remain poorly understood. Understanding the evolution of stem cells requires molecular profiling of stem cells in an animal at a basal phylogenetic position. In this study, using transgenic Hydra polyps, we reveal for each of the three stem cell populations a specific signature set of transcriptions factors and of genes playing key roles in cell type-specific function and interlineage communication. Our data show that principal functions of stem cell genes, such as maintenance of stemness and control of stem cell self-renewal and differentiation, arose very early in metazoan evolution. They are corroborating the view that stem cell types shared common, multifunctional ancestors, which achieved complexity through a stepwise segregation of function in daughter cells.
Hydra ’s unlimited life span has long attracted attention from natural scientists. The reason for that phenomenon is the indefinite self-renewal capacity of its stem cells. The underlying molecular mechanisms have yet to be explored. Here, by comparing the transcriptomes of Hydra ’s stem cells followed by functional analysis using transgenic polyps, we identified the transcription factor forkhead box O (FoxO) as one of the critical drivers of this continuous self-renewal. foxO overexpression increased interstitial stem cell and progenitor cell proliferation and activated stem cell genes in terminally differentiated somatic cells. foxO down-regulation led to an increase in the number of terminally differentiated cells, resulting in a drastically reduced population growth rate. In addition, it caused down-regulation of stem cell genes and antimicrobial peptide (AMP) expression. These findings contribute to a molecular understanding of Hydra ’s immortality, indicate an evolutionarily conserved role of FoxO in controlling longevity from Hydra to humans, and have implications for understanding cellular aging.
Early embryos of many organisms develop outside the mother and are immediately confronted with myriads of potential colonizers. How these naive developmental stages control and shape the bacterial colonization is largely unknown. Here we show that early embryonic stages of the basal metazoan Hydra are able to control bacterial colonization by using maternal antimicrobial peptides. Antimicrobial peptides of the periculin family selecting for a specific bacterial colonization during embryogenesis are produced in the oocyte and in early embryos. If overexpressed in hydra ectodermal epithelial cells, periculin1a drastically reduces the bacterial load, indicating potent antimicrobial activity. Unexpectedly, transgenic polyps also revealed that periculin, in addition to bactericidal activity, changes the structure of the bacterial community. These findings delineate a role for antimicrobial peptides both in selecting particular bacterial partners during development and as important components of a "be prepared" strategy providing transgenerational protection.innate immunity | host-microbe interaction | embryo protection | cnidaria | Hydra
In an adult hydra the head organizer, located in the hypostome, is constantly active in maintaining the structure of the animal in the context of its steady state tissue dynamics. Several Wnt genes, TCF, and elevated levels of beta-catenin are expressed in the hypostome as well as during the formation of a new organizer region in developing buds suggesting they play a role in the organizer. Transgenic hydra were generated in which a modified hydra beta-catenin gene driven by an actin promoter is continuously expressed at a high level throughout the animal. These animals formed heads and secondary axes in multiple locations along the body column. Transplantation experiments indicate they have a high and stable level of head organizer activity throughout the body columns. However, none of the Wnt genes are expressed in the body columns of these transgenic animals. Further, in alsterpaullone-treated animals, which results in a transient rise in head organizer activity throughout the body column, the time of expression of the Wnt genes is much shorter than the time of the elevated level of head inducing activity. These results for the first time provide direct functional evidence that beta-catenin plays a crucial role in the maintenance and activity of the head organizer and suggest that Wnt ligands may be required only for the initiation but not in maintenance of the organizer in Hydra.
Little is known about stem cells in organisms at the beginning of evolution. To characterize the regulatory events that control stem cells in the basal metazoan Hydra, we have generated transgenics which express eGFP selectively in the interstitial stem cell lineage. Using them we visualized stem cell and precursor migration in real-time in the context of the native environment. We demonstrate that interstitial cells respond to signals from the cellular environment, and that Wnt and Notch pathways are key players in this process. Furthermore, by analyzing polyps which overexpress the Polycomb protein HyEED in their interstitial cells, we provide in vivo evidence for a role of chromatin modification in terminal differentiation. These findings for the first time uncover insights into signalling pathways involved in stem cell differentiation in the Bilaterian ancestor; they demonstrate that mechanisms controlling stem cell behaviour are based on components which are conserved throughout the animal kingdom.
Understanding the molecular events that underlie the evolution of morphological diversity is a major challenge in biology. Here, to identify genes whose expression correlates with species-specific morphologies, we compared transcriptomes of two closely related Hydra species. We find that species-specific differences in tentacle formation correlate with expression of a taxonomically restricted gene encoding a small secreted protein. We show that gain of function induces changes in morphology that mirror the phenotypic differences observed between species. These results suggest that “novel” genes may be involved in the generation of species-specific morphological traits.
Colonization of body epithelial surfaces with a highly specific microbial community is a fundamental feature of all animals, yet the underlying mechanisms by which these communities are selected and maintained are not well understood. Here, we show that sensory and ganglion neurons in the ectodermal epithelium of the model organism hydra (a member of the animal phylum Cnidaria) secrete neuropeptides with antibacterial activity that may shape the microbiome on the body surface. In particular, a specific neuropeptide, which we call NDA-1, contributes to the reduction of Gram-positive bacteria during early development and thus to a spatial distribution of the main colonizer, the Gram-negative Curvibacter sp., along the body axis. Our findings warrant further research to test whether neuropeptides secreted by nerve cells contribute to the spatial structure of microbial communities in other organisms.
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