Value of the Hydra model system for studying symbiosis
Published: 5 June 2012
Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science, University of Zagreb, Croatia
Green Hydra is used as a classical example for explaining symbiosis in schools as well as an excellent research model. Indeed the cosmopolitan green Hydra (Hydra viridissima) provides a potent experimental framework to investigate the symbiotic relationships between a complex eumetazoan organism and a unicellular photoautotrophic green algae named Chlorella. Chlorella populates a single somatic cell type, the gastrodermal myoepithelial cells (also named digestive cells) and the oocyte at the time of sexual reproduction. This symbiotic relationship is stable, well-determined and provides biological advantages to the algal symbionts, but also to green Hydra over the related non-symbiotic Hydra i.e. brown hydra. These advantages likely result from the bidirectional flow of metabolites between the host and the symbiont. Moreover genetic flow through horizontal gene transfer might also participate in the establishment of these selective advantages. However, these relationships between the host and the symbionts may be more complex. Thus, Jolley and Smith showed that the reproductive rate of the algae increases dramatically outside of Hydra cells, although this endosymbiont isolation is debated. Recently it became possible to keep different species of endosymbionts isolated from green Hydra in stable and permanent cultures and compare them to free-living Chlorella species. Future studies testing metabolic relationships and genetic flow should help elucidate the mechanisms that support the maintenance of symbiosis in a eumetazoan species.