Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Deadly Jellyfish Weapons Unravelled

19.04.2012
Heidelberg researchers analyse proteins of stinging cells in the Hydra freshwater polyp

Heidelberg researchers have succeeded in unravelling the defence mechanisms of jellyfish. Scientists working with Prof. Dr. Thomas Holstein and Dr. Suat Özbek from the Centre for Organismal Studies (COS) of Heidelberg University, together with collaborators from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), analysed the proteome, or full set of proteins, of the stinging cells in the freshwater polyp Hydra.


Hydra freshwater polyp. Animal with tentacles and buds (left); tentacle with nematocysts in battery cells of a tentacle (middle); isolated and partly discharged stinging capsules (right)

Photos: Nüchter and Holstein (left), Holstein (middle and right), Molecular Evolution & Genomics, COS Heidelberg

The results of their research reveal a complex mixture of toxic and structural proteins that can explain the extraordinary toxicity and biophysical properties of these unique cells. They also show how the energy for discharging the toxin can be stored in the stinging cells and released at extraordinary speed.

With their poison cells, jellyfish and other cnidarians have developed one of the most venomous and differentiated cellular mechanisms in the animal kingdom. Stinging cells, also known as nematocysts or cnidocysts, are found in the outer cell layer of cnidarians and are used for capturing prey or for defence. They consist mainly of a stinging capsule, a giant secretory vesicle. Inside this organelle a long, barbed tubule is coiled up, which turns inside out like the finger of a glove during discharge, thus releasing the deadly poison into the prey. This mixture of previously unknown toxins paralyses the nervous system of the prey and destroys their cells. Injecting the toxins requires an effective mechanism. Studies have shown that the discharge of toxins is associated with an extremely high pressure of 15 megapascals, whereby the stylet, a thin barb, is able to penetrate even thick crustacean shells. The stylet is accelerated at a force of 5 million g in under 700 nanoseconds, making the discharge of toxins harpoon-like.

Up until now, the molecular components responsible for the biomechanical properties of these unique cellular weapons were largely unknown. The Heidelberg scientists used protein mass spectroscopy to study the cells of the Hydra magnipapillata freshwater polyp. The procedure afforded them a precise qualitative and quantitative analysis of the chemical composition of the substances, thus enabling them to map the nematocyst proteome of the Hydra. Prof. Holstein and Dr. Özbek’s research team were surprised at its complexity. The biologists discovered 410 proteins with venomous and lytic, but also adhesive or fibrous properties. The proteins of the stinging capsule wall contain hitherto unknown structural components that form a tissue-like matrix, a complex protein mesh. This structure of collagen and elastomers surpasses the elasticity and tensile strength of even spider’s silk.

These findings allow the Heidelberg researchers to explain how the energy for discharging the toxin can be stored in the stinging cells and then released from the elastic structure of the capsule wall in nanoseconds at an extraordinary speed. “The poison cells of the cnidarians represent an effective combination of the powerful molecular spring mechanism and a structure with extreme biophysical properties,” says Prof. Holstein. The studies also suggest that the organelles containing the injectable toxin have adopted the molecular properties of connective tissue proteins such as collagens during their development. According to Prof. Holstein, it was an unexpected solution in early evolution to develop such a sophisticated mechanism for prey capture and defence.

Original publication:
Prakash G. Balasubramanian, Anna Beckmann, Uwe Warnken, Martina Schnölzer, Andreas Schüler, Erich Bornberg-Bauer, Thomas W. Holstein, and Suat Özbek: Proteome of Hydra Nematocyst, Journal of Biological Chemistry, 23 March, 2012, doi:10.1074/jbc.M111.328203

Contact:
Prof. Dr. Thomas Holstein / PD Dr. Suat Özbek
Centre for Organismal Studies
Phone +49 6221 54-5679, -5638
thomas.holstein@cos.uni-heidelberg.de
suat.oezbek@cos.uni-heidelberg.de

Communications and Marketing
Press Office, phone: +49 6221 54-2311
presse@rektorat.uni-heidelberg.de

Marietta Fuhrmann-Koch | idw
Further information:
http://www.uni-heidelberg.de

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Complementing conventional antibiotics
24.05.2018 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

nachricht Building a brain, cell by cell: Researchers make a mini neuron network (of two)
23.05.2018 | Institute of Industrial Science, The University of Tokyo

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Molecular switch will facilitate the development of pioneering electro-optical devices

A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.

The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...

Im Focus: LZH showcases laser material processing of tomorrow at the LASYS 2018

At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.

At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...

Im Focus: Self-illuminating pixels for a new display generation

There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?

At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...

Im Focus: Explanation for puzzling quantum oscillations has been found

So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics

Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...

Im Focus: Dozens of binaries from Milky Way's globular clusters could be detectable by LISA

Next-generation gravitational wave detector in space will complement LIGO on Earth

The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Save the date: Forum European Neuroscience – 07-11 July 2018 in Berlin, Germany

02.05.2018 | Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

When corals eat plastics

24.05.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Surgery involving ultrasound energy found to treat high blood pressure

24.05.2018 | Medical Engineering

First chip-scale broadband optical system that can sense molecules in the mid-IR

24.05.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>