Researchers uncover in detail the dynamic feeding process of the tiny freshwater animal hydra.
Hydra is a simple tiny freshwater animal that is found in temperate and tropical regions.
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The feeding process of hydra is a longstanding mystery for scientists. They knew that this tiny animal could catch and sting its prey using tentacles and then gulp down the food, but how the whole mechanism actually works.
For the first time, researches from University of California have closely looked at this dynamic process. They found that hydra uses a terrifying approach to eat its prey. It rips apart its own body to open its mouth every time it eats food.
“Hydra is such a simple organism; it allows us to perform controlled perturbations and quantitative measurements in the natural context.” Lead researcher Eva-Maria S. Collins, a professor of biology and physics at UC San Diego said in a statement.
The process of mouth opening is so dramatic that scientists suspected that cells had to rearrange for the mouth to open. But when researchers tracked individual cells within the animal’s mouth, they discovered that cells were not rearranging – they were deforming.
“It's fascinating that Hydra has to tear a hole every time it opens its mouth. And that this process happens so quick; this was the first indication to us that mouth opening did not involve cellular rearrangements.” Collins explained.
“The fact that the cells are able to stretch to accommodate the mouth opening, which is sometimes wider than the body, was really astounding.”
Hydra is tubular-shaped invertebrate that is measured less than 0.5 inches in length and has tentacles over its body. When a small shrimp touches those tentacles, its sharp barbs paralyze the prey and take it inside the body without leaving a sign that there was ever a mouth at all.
The analyses of hydra’s feeding process on cellular level helped researchers understand how living organisms can use relatively simple physics and develop from an unstructured group of cells into a complex body plan.
However, scientists are still unable to identify the benefits of this adaptation.
“Evolutionarily, why do these animals have this weird mechanism for feeding? We don’t really have an answer for that,” said Collins. “But it’s a really interesting question.”