The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 64: 141 - 149 (2020)

Vol 64, Issue 1-2-3

Special Issue: Developmental Biology in India - First Part

Cell signaling molecules in hydra: insights into evolutionarily ancient functions of signaling pathways

Published: 23 June 2020

Surendra Ghaskadbi*

Developmental Biology Group, MACS-Agharkar Research Institute, Pune, India


Hydra, a Cnidarian believed to have been evolved about 60 million years ago, has been a favorite model for developmental biologists since Abraham Trembley introduced it in 1744. However, the modern renaissance in research on hydra was initiated by Alfred Gierer when he established a hydra laboratory at the Max Plank Institute in Göttingen in the late 1960s. Several signaling mechanisms that regulate development and pattern formation in vertebrates, including humans, have been found in hydra. These include Wnt, BMP, VEGF, FGF, Notch, and RTK signaling pathways. We have been using hydra to understand the evolution of cell signaling for the past several years. In this article, I will summarize the work on cell signaling pathways in hydra with emphasis on our own work. We have identified and characterized, for the first time, the hydra homologs of the BMP inhibitors Noggin and Gremlin, the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), fibroblast growth factor (FGF) and several receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs). Our work, along with that of others, clearly demonstrates that these pathways arose early in evolution to carry out functions that were often quite different from their functions in more complex animals. Apart from providing insights into morphogenesis and pattern formation in adult, budding and regenerating hydra, these findings bring out the utility of hydra as a model system to study evolutionarily ancient, in contrast to recently acquired, functions of various biological molecules.


cell signaling pathway, evolution, Hydra, pattern formation

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