Department of Developmental and Cell Biology, University of California, Irvine, CA, USA
Organizers and organizing centers play critical roles in axis formation and patterning during the early stages of embryogenesis in many bilaterians. The presence and activity of an organizer was first described in adult Hydra about 100 years ago, and in the following decades organizer regions were identified in a number of bilaterian embryos. In an adult Hydra, the cells of the body column are constantly in the mitotic cycle resulting in continuous displacement of the tissue to the extremities where it is sloughed. In this context, the head organizer located in the hypostome is continuously active sending out signals to maintain the structure and morphology of the head, body column and foot of the animal. The molecular basis of the head organizer involves the canonical Wnt pathway, which acts in a self-renewing manner to maintain itself in the context of the tissue dynamics of Hydra. During bud formation, Hydra’s mode of asexual reproduction, a head organizer based on the canonical Wnt pathway is set up to initiate and control the development of a new Hydra. As this pathway plays a central role in vertebrate embryonic organizers, its presence and activity in Hydra indicate that the molecular basis of the organizer arose early in metazoan evolution.