'Immortal' Freshwater Hydra's Cells Mapped for the First Time in New Study

Tiny Hydra, known for renewing its cells and regenerating damaged tissue, could help us understand degenerative human diseases.
Fabienne Lang
Just a few millimeters long, the hydra has the ability to completely regenerate damaged body parts including its nervous system, making it practically immortal.Stefan Sieberg/UC Davis

Some spectacular creatures are living on our earth and in our waters. One such being is the minute, freshwater Hydra

What's so nifty about this little creature? It's an invertebrate that has the superpower, or ability to renew its cells and regenerate damaged tissues. 

Pretty neat. 


You can slice a hydra in half, and it will fully regenerate its body and its cells in a matter of days. Days!

A team of researchers from the University of California Davis has been working on tracing the fate of the hydra's cells, and have uncovered that three lines of stem cells become nerves, muscles, and other tissues. 

The research was published in Science Magazine on Friday.

How did the team carry out the research?

The team sequenced the RNA, an acid essential for all forms of life, transcripts of 25,000 single hydra cells. This allowed them to follow the genetic pattern of almost all different cell types. 

'Immortal' Freshwater Hydra's Cells Mapped for the First Time in New Study
Hydra Vulgaris. Source: Proyecto Agua/Flickr

"The beauty of single-cell sequencing and why this is such a big deal for developmental biologists is that we can actually capture the genes that are expressed as cells differentiate from stem cells into their different cell types," said Celina Juliano, assistant professor at UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. 

What is the purpose of this research?

This data set will assist researchers in understanding regulatory gene networks that are shared among animals, including humans.

An example of the importance of understanding how a hydra regenerates its complete nervous system is how it would help in gaining a clearer image of neurodegenerative diseases in humans. 

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Hydras continuously renew their cells. And they do so from three disparate cell populations.  

Researchers are particularly interested in the hydra's ability to regenerate its nervous system as it could provide insights into treating trauma, or the aforementioned degenerative diseases in humans. 

"All organisms share the same injury response pathway, but in some organisms like hydra, it leads to regeneration," said co-author and graduate student Abby Primack

Primack continued, "In other organisms, like humans, once our brain is injured, we have difficulty recovering because the brain lacks the kind of regenerative abilities we see in hydra." 

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