Scientists reveal the secret of the eternal youth of a strange animal

A cross-section through the tentacles of a transgenic sea anemone showing the differentiation outgrowths of SoxC cell clusters (purple) and connective muscle (yellow). Credit: Andreas Diener

In sea anemones, highly conserved genes ensure continuous differentiation between neurons and glandular cells.

Sea anemones are apparently immortal animals. They appear to be immune to aging and the negative effects that people experience over time. However, the exact reasons for their eternal youth are not fully understood.

The genetic imprint of the anemone Nematostella vectensis It reveals that members of this incredibly ancient animal lineage use the same genetic sequences for neural differentiation as more complex organisms. These genes are also responsible for maintaining the homeostasis of all cells in the organism during the life of the anemone. These results were recently published in the journal cell reports by a group of evolutionary biologists led by Ulrich Technau of the University of Vienna.

Almost all living things are made up of millions, if not billions, of cells that come together in complex ways to form specific tissues and organs, which are made up of a range of cell types, such as a variety of neurons and glandular cells. However, it is unclear what this critical balance of different cell types looks like, how it is regulated and whether different cell types from different organisms share a common ancestry.

Optical longitudinal section of a sea anemone with 1 transgenic cell 1 (red) in both cell layers. Muscles are colored green and cell nuclei are colored blue. Credit: Andreas Diener

Single-cell printing leads to common ancestors

The research group, led by evolutionary evolutionary biologist Ulrich Technau, who is also head of the Single Cell Regulation of Stem Cells (SinCeReSt) Research Platform at the University of Vienna, deciphered the diversity and evolution of all types and types of neurons and glands. . Developmental origin of sea anemones Nematostella vectensis.

To achieve this, they used single-celled transcription, a method that has revolutionized biomedicine and evolutionary biology over the past decade.

It allows whole organisms to be divided into individual cells – all genes currently expressed in each cell can be decoded separately. Different cell types differ fundamentally in the genes they express. Therefore, single-cell transcripts can be used to determine the molecular fingerprint of each individual cell,” explains Julia Steiger, lead author of the current publication.

In the study, cells with overlapping fingerprints were grouped together. This allowed scientists to distinguish specific cell types or cells in transitional stages of development, each with unique expressive groups. It also enabled researchers to determine the common lineage and stem cell populations of different tissues.

To their surprise, they found that, contrary to previous assumptions, neurons, glandular cells and other sensory cells originate from a single common lineage population, which can be verified by genetic labeling in live animals. Since some glandular cells with neuronal functions are also known in vertebrates, this may indicate a very ancient evolutionary relationship between neurons and glandular cells.

Ancient genes in constant use

The gene plays a special role in the development of these common progenitor cells. SoxC is expressed in all primary cells of neurons, glandular cells, and neurons and is essential for the formation of all these cell types, as the authors were also able to demonstrate in knockout experiments.

Interestingly, this gene is not rare: it also plays an important role in the formation of the nervous system in humans and many other animals, which, together with other data, shows that these important regulatory mechanisms of neural differentiation are conserved worldwide. It seems that. animal kingdom,” says Techno.

By comparing different life stages, the authors also found that in sea anemones, the genetic processes of neuronal development from embryo to adult organism are maintained, contributing to neuronal homeostasis throughout life. Nematostella victensis.

This is remarkable because, unlike humans, anemones can replace lost or damaged neurons throughout their lives. For future research, this raises the question of how to manage sea anemones to maintain these mechanisms, which occur only at the embryonic stage in more complex organisms, in a controlled manner in the adult organism.

Reference: “Single-cell transcriptomes identify conserved regulators of glandular neuronal lineages” by Julia Steiger, Alison J. Cole, Andreas Diener, Tatiana Lebedeva, Grigory Jenkovic, Alexander Reis, Robert Richell, Elizabeth Taudes, Mark Lassnig, and Ulrich Teknow, 20 September 2022, cell reports.
DOI: 10.1016 / j.celrep.2022.111370

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