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Genome of the Freshwater Polyp Hydra Deciphered

Press Release No. 50/2010
11 March 2010
Research casts light on the tight evolutionary links between humans and ancient animals
Süßwasserpolyp Hydra
Experimental biology owes much to the discovery of the freshwater polyp Hydra over 300 years ago. Hydra was first described by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek in 1702. In 1744 Abraham Trembley published a remarkable series of experiments on Hydra, the first to demonstrate regeneration, tissue transplantation and asexual reproduction in an animal. The photograph by Melanie Mikosch and Thomas Holstein (Heidelberg University) shows a budding Hydra magnipapillata polyp.

Photo by Melanike Mikosch and Thomas Holstein, Heidelberg University

The freshwater polyp Hydra is a key model organism for modern research in evolutionary and developmental biology. Now its genome has been sequenced by an international research consortium of German, Austrian, Japanese and American scientists. The identification of Hydra’s genetic repertoire casts light on the evolutionary links between humans and ancient animals. Significantly involved in the research work were scientists from the Universities of Kiel, Munich, Heidelberg, Vienna and Innsbruck. The findings will appear in the 14 March 2010 online version of Nature.

The freshwater polyp Hydra is a cnidarian, a simple multicellular organism that has been around for over 600 million years and plays a key role in early animal evolution. To decipher the Hydra genome and its genetic repertoire, the scientists sequenced 1.2 billion DNA base pairs. The work was supported by two genome research institutes in the United States. Subsequently the researchers compared the Hydra sequence with the DNA of higher animals and humans. Funding for the intricate studies was provided by the German Research Foundation (DFG), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) in the United States, the National Institute of Genetics (NIG) in Japan and the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).

The outcome of the research indicates how much the genetic repertoire of primitive organisms, higher animals and humans have in common. Like vertebrates, Hydra has a set of approximately 20,000 genes. All the key molecular switches for the formation of epithelial tissue, muscles, stem cells and nervous and immune systems originated at the level of this simple multicellular organism. The decoding of the Hydra genome is a further stage in understanding the molecular “toolbox” underlying the evolution of animals and humans. The aim of such research is to answer one of the crucial questions in biology: What does the fundamental genetic blueprint for animals look like and how have all the more complex types developed from it?

Hydra was first described by Antoni van Leeuwenhoek in 1702. In 1744 naturalist Abraham Trembley of Geneva published his observations from a series of experiments on the freshwater polyp, the first to identify the capacity for organ and tissue regeneration, transplantation of tissue and asexual reproduction in an animal. Since then, Hydra has been an important model system for the study of regeneration and development. These studies have led to critical discoveries in experimental biology. The almost unlimited regeneration potential, the absence of aging processes and the high conservation of its genome make Hydra an important research object for new approaches in stem-cell biology and biomedical science.

Members of the German and Austrian research teams include associates of Prof. Dr. Charles David (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München), Prof. Dr. Thomas Bosch (Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel), Prof. Dr. Thomas Holstein (Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg), Prof. Dr. Bert Hobmayer (Universität Innsbruck) and Prof. Dr. Ulrich Technau (Universität Wien).


Original publication: The dynamic genome of Hydra
Jarrod A. Chapman, Ewen F. Kirkness, Oleg Simakov et al., The Dynamic Genome of Hydra, Nature online (14 March 2010), doi:10.1038/nature08830


Contact (Germany)
Prof. Dr. Thomas Bosch, Kiel University
phone: +49 431 880-4169

Prof. Dr. Charles David, Munich University
phone: +49 89 2180-74217

Prof. Dr. Thomas Holstein, Heidelberg University
phone: +49 6221 54-5679


Contact (Austria)
Prof. Dr. Bert Hobmayer, Innsbruck University
phone: +43 512 507-6165

Prof. Dr. Ulrich Technau, Vienna University
phone: +43 1 4277-57000



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