Int. J. Dev. Biol. 56: 437 - 445 (2012)
doi: 10.1387/ijdb.113458ag
© UPV/EHU Press

The Hydra model - a model for what?

Alfred Gierer*

Max-Planck-Institute for Developmental Biology, Tuebingen, Germany

ABSTRACT The introductory personal remarks refer to my motivations for choosing research projects, and for moving from physics to molecular biology and then to development, with Hydra as a model system. Historically, Trembley’s discovery of Hydra regeneration in 1744 was the beginning of developmental biology as we understand it, with passionate debates about preformation versus de novo generation, mechanisms versus organisms. In fact, seemingly conflicting bottom-up and top-down concepts are both required in combination to understand development. In modern terms, this means analysing the molecules involved, as well as searching for physical principles underlying development within systems of molecules, cells and tissues. During the last decade, molecular biology has provided surprising and impressive evidence that the same types of molecules and molecular systems are involved in pattern formation in a wide range of organisms, including coelenterates like Hydra, and thus appear to have been “invented” early in evolution. Likewise, the features of certain systems, especially those of developmental regulation, are found in many different organisms. This includes the generation of spatial structures by the interplay of self-enhancing activation and “lateral” inhibitory effects of wider range, which is a main topic of my essay. Hydra regeneration is a particularly clear model for the formation of defined patterns within initially near-uniform tissues. In conclusion, this essay emphasizes the analysis of development in terms of physical laws, including the application of mathematics, and insists that Hydra was, and will continue to be, a rewarding model for understanding general features of embryogenesis and regeneration.


pattern formation, lateral inhibition, tissue evagination, Trembley, Caspar Friedrich Wolff

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