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Burning jellyfish cells contain the key to biodiversity – ScienceDaily

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Cnidus cells – or sting cells – that are characteristic of marine anemones, hydra, coral and jellyfish and make us keep a close eye on our feet while wading in the ocean, are also a great model for understanding the emergence of new cell types. to new Cornell research.

In a new study published in Art Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences On May 2, Leslie Babonis, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the College of Arts and Sciences, revealed that these stinging cells evolved by reshaping a neuron inherited from the ancestor of the docnidarium.

“These amazing results demonstrate how new genes are gaining new functions to drive the evolution of biodiversity,” Babonis said. “They suggest that the co-optation of ancestral cell types was an important source for new cell functions during the early evolution of animals.”

Understanding how specialized cell types, such as sting cells, are, is a key challenge in evolutionary biology, Babonis said. For almost a century, it has been known that knidocytes evolved from a pool of stem cells that also generate neurons (brain cells), but so far no one knew how these stem cells decided to make a neuron or knidocyte. Understanding this process in living cnidarians may reveal clues that now cnidocytes have evolved primarily, Babonis said.

Cnidocytes (cnidos in Greek means “stinging nettle”), common to species of different types of Cnidaria, can trigger poisonous barbs or drops or allow cnidarians to stun prey or deter invaders. Cnidarians are the only animals that have Cnidarians, but many of them Babonis said that animals have neurons. to create a new cell.

“One of the unique features of knidocytes is that they all have an explosive organelle (a small pocket inside the cage) that contains a harpoon that shoots out to sting you,” Babonis said. “These harpoons are made from a protein that is also found only in cnidarians, so knidocytes seem to be one of the most striking examples of how the origin of a new gene (encoding a unique protein) can stimulate the evolution of a new cell type.”

Using functional genomics in sea anemones, Nematostella vectensis, the researchers showed that knidocytes develop by disabling the expression of the neuropeptide, RFamide, in a subset of developing neurons, and reprofiling these cells into knidocytes. Moreover, the researchers showed that one regulatory gene, specific for cnidaria, is responsible for both disabling the neural function of these cells and for the inclusion of book-specific traits.

Neurons and knidocytes are similar in shape, Babonis said; both are secretory cells capable of ejecting something out of the cell. Neurons secrete neuropeptides – proteins that quickly transmit information to other cells. Cnidocytes secrete harpoons with poison.

“There’s one gene that acts as a light switch – when it’s turned on, you get a knidocyte, when it’s turned off, you get a neuron,” Babonis said. “It’s pretty simple logic to control cell identity.”

This is the first study to show that this logic works in cnidarians, Babonis said, so this feature probably regulated how cells began to differ from each other in the earliest multicellular animals.

Babonis and her lab are planning future research to investigate how widespread this genetic switch is in creating new cell types in animals. One project, for example, would investigate whether a similar mechanism drives the origin of new skeletal-secreting cells in corals.

This study was supported by the National Science Foundation and NASA.

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Materials provided Cornell University. The original, written by Kate Blackwood, is provided by the Cornell Chronicle. Note: Content can be edited by style and length.

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