Int. J. Dev. Biol. 56: 637 - 652 (2012)
doi: 10.1387/ijdb.123523pb
© UPV/EHU Press

How to use Hydra as a model system to teach biology in the classroom

Patricia Bossert1 and Brigitte Galliot*,2

1University of Stony Brook, New York, USA and 2Department of Genetics and Evolution, University of Geneva, Switzerland

ABSTRACT As scientists it is our duty to fight against obscurantism and loss of rational thinking if we want politicians and citizens to freely make the most intelligent choices for the future generations. With that aim, the scientific education and training of young students is an obvious and urgent necessity. We claim here that Hydra provides a highly versatile but cheap model organism to study biology at any age. Teachers of biology have the unenviable task of motivating young people, who with many other motivations that are quite valid, nevertheless must be guided along a path congruent with a ‘syllabus’ or a ‘curriculum’. The biology of Hydra spans the history of biology as an experimental science from Trembley’s first manipulations designed to determine if the green polyp he found was plant or animal to the dissection of the molecular cascades underpinning, regeneration, wound healing, stemness, aging and cancer. It is described here in terms designed to elicit its wider use in classrooms. Simple lessons are outlined in sufficient detail for beginners to enter the world of ‘Hydra biology’. Protocols start with the simplest observations to experiments that have been pretested with students in the USA and in Europe. The lessons are practical and can be used to bring ‘life’, but also rational thinking into the study of life for the teachers of students from elementary school through early university.


ecology, evolution and developmental biology education, science policy, authentic assessment, inquiry-based learning, student portfolio

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