What Hydra can teach us about chemical ecology – how a simple, soft organism survives in a hostile aqueous environment
Published: 5 June 2012
Tamar Rachamim and Daniel Sher*
Department of Marine Biology, Leon H. Charney School of Marine Sciences, University of Haifa, Israel
Hydra and its fellow cnidarians - sea anemones, corals and jellyfish - are simple, mostly sessile animals that depend on bioactive chemicals for survival. In this review, we briefly describe what is known about the chemical armament of Hydra, and detail future research directions where Hydra can help illuminate major questions in chemical ecology, pharmacology, developmental biology and evolution. Focusing on two groups of putative toxins from Hydra – phospholipase A2s and proteins containing ShK and zinc metalloprotease domains, we ask: how do different venom components act together during prey paralysis? How is a venom arsenal created and how does it evolve? How is the chemical arsenal delivered to its target? To what extent does a chemical and biotic coupling exist between an organism and its environment? We propose a model whereby in Hydra and other cnidarians, bioactive compounds are secreted both as localized point sources (nematocyte discharges) and across extensive body surfaces, likely combining to create complex “chemical landscapes”. We speculate that these cnidarian-derived chemical landscapes may affect the surrounding community on scales from microns to, in the case of coral reefs, hundreds of kilometers.