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Sars International Centre for Marine Molecular Biology
Evolution of Nutrient and growth homeostasis in animals

Steinmetz Group

We aim to understand the cellular and molecular links between growth, reproduction and food availability using the simple sea anemone Nematostella vectensis.

Nematostella vectensis (Cnidaria, Anthozoa)
Photo:
Patrick Steinmetz

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Sea anemones grow when fed and shrink when starved. We use the sea anemones Nematostella vectensis and Exaiptasia pallida to study how these processes are regulated on a cellular and molecular level. Our research combines aspects of body size regulation, nutrient transport, stem cell biology and cell cycle control to get a systemic understanding of one of the oldest physiological growth control mechanisms in animals.

figure_steinmetz.jpg
Photo:
Patrick Steinmetz

Sea anemones show extreme responses to the presence or absence of food. Growth and cell division rates are high when food is abundant. In contrast, starvation leads to a strong and rapid decline in cell division rates, followed by a controlled body shrinkage. We aim to leverage the extreme, nutrient-controlled body plasticity and cell division dynamics of Nematostella vectensis to get a comprehensive understanding of nutrient-controlled body plasticity at the organismal, epithelial, cellular, transcriptomic and genomic levels. We have recently started to include the sea anemone Exaiptasia pallida to study how symbionts affect growth and starvation resilience.

Current projects focus on:

  • Nutritional control of stem and progenitor cell proliferation
  • Transcriptome response to feeding and starvation
  • Body patterning during starvation-induced shrinkage
  • Molecular control of starvation-induced apoptosis
  • Systemic nutrient uptake and transport

Nematostella provides a simple organismal framework to study body plasticity due to a simple body plan that consists of only two epithelia and lacks a centralised nervous system or a circulatory system. We combine a diverse set of state-of-the-art molecular and genetic techniques, such as CRISPR/Cas9-mediated generation of mutant or knock-in lines or transgenic lines, together with more traditional molecular, physiological and ultrastructural methods to study nutrient-controlled growth and cell proliferation control.