Gibson’s lab investigates the cellular and molecular mechanisms used by cells to assemble into layers or clusters during embryogenesis. Those tissues, comprised of densely packed cells known as epithelial cells, shape the body not only of simple creatures but also of mammals, where they line every body cavity from lung to intestine and form hormone- and milk-secreting glands. Unfortunately these cells have a dark side too- over 80% of human cancers, carcinomas, are of epithelial origin.
Image: Courtesy of Ashleigh Fritz, Stowers Institute for Medical Research
The Gibson lab has historically used the genetic powerhouse Drosophila to investigate the control of epithelial cell shape and proliferation during wing, leg and eye development. Breaking with tradition, their new study published in the May 15th, 2013 issue of Development, explains how developing sea anemone larvae construct an even more basic epithelial appendage, the tentacle. The paper charts how epithelial cell shape changes drive tentacle development and is also the first to identify candidate genes driving those changes. Most of all, by putting a new model organism representing one of the simplest animals center stage, the study illuminates some of the most fundamental principles animals use to construct a body.
Lacking even left-right symmetry, sea anemones are evolutionarily ancient. But during embryogenesis their larvae compensate for an uninspiring torso by sprouting tentacles from thickened epithelial buds surrounding their mouth. “Nematostella’s body is basically a bag of epithelium,” says Gibson. “And that simplicity makes it a great system for determining how epithelial cells act collectively to shape an appendage. Taking advantage of this fast, easy and cheap experimental system, we can quickly answer questions that give us deep insight into a process, at both the mechanistic and evolutionary levels.”
The all-Stowers study, led by first author Ashleigh Fritz, a graduate student at the University of Kansas School of Medicine working in the Gibson lab, began by imaging Nematostella larvae at the cellular level before, during, and immediately after “juvenile” tentacles sprang from their body. Freshly hatched Nematostella larvae are under intense pressure to get their tentacles up and running, as they use them to pull food toward their mouths. The question was, what kind of cellular reshuffling drove these survival-dependent changes in morphology?
“We thought tentacle outgrowth might be driven by cell proliferation,” says Fritz, noting that some of Nematostella’s freshwater cousins sprout appendages by constant cell division. “Instead, we observed that cells begin thickened and then thin out as tentacles elongate.” In other words, the process was driven not by cell duplication along a “tentacle axis” but rather by stretching a stockpile of cells.
Embryologists call the embryonic thickening of epithelial cells that provides raw material for a mature structure a placode. “Placodes have appeared over and over throughout evolution,” says Gibson, noting that placodes give rise to wings or eyes in flies and feathers and teeth in vertebrates. “Discovering that placodes are also utilized in animals as seemingly primitive as Nematostella shows how fundamental this strategy is in evolution.”
“Transcriptome analysis led us to identify novel tentacle markers,” says Fritz, referring to molecular probes used to define a particular cell type. “Also gene expression patterns that we and others have identified allowed us to construct the first-ever molecular model of how tentacles are patterned.”
In short, the study not only suggests universal principles underlying sculpting of epithelial structures from a placode, but also provides investigators with a toolkit to test whether specific genes drive the process.
An added bonus is that in 2007 a consortium of researchers sequenced the Nematostella genome and reported it to be more “human-like” in size and structure than that of Drosophila or another widely used model system, the nematode C. elegans. As a result, Gibson thinks that for many key questions, Nematostella may represent a better laboratory model than either.“The common ancestor of sea anemones, flies, and humans likely had a surprisingly complex genome,” he says, explaining that over millions of years of evolution flies and worms might have lost some genomic complexity. “As a result, these seemingly simple animals share some key genomic characteristics with humans and other vertebrates.”
In addition to Seidel and Paulson, Gibson lab postdoctoral fellow Aissam Ikmi, Ph.D., also contributed to the study.
The study was funded by the Stowers Institute for Medical Research and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.
About the Stowers Institute for Medical Research
The Stowers Institute for Medical Research is a non-profit, basic biomedical research organization dedicated to improving human health by studying the fundamental processes of life. Jim Stowers, founder of American Century Investments, and his wife, Virginia, opened the Institute in 2000. Since then, the Institute has spent over 900 million dollars in pursuit of its mission.
Currently, the Institute is home to nearly 550 researchers and support personnel; over 20 independent research programs; and more than a dozen technology-development and core facilities.
Gina Kirchweger | Newswise
The birth of a new protein
20.10.2017 | University of Arizona
Building New Moss Factories
20.10.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
20.10.2017 | Information Technology
20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences
20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research