Model Behaviour

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Model organisms are much used in modern biology. Generally small and easy to keep in the lab, these creatures serve as the ‘typical example’ of a type of organism or biological process. Fruitflies, mice, yeast, zebra fish, Arabidopsis, etc. The list of organisms that can be regarded as models sometimes seems so long that the concept is itself undermined; how long before we see the platypus championed as a model? Nevertheless the use of ‘standard’ creatures does allow the results from different laboratories across the world to be directly compared, always assuming that these labs are treating their models in a standard way.

nematostellacoverFor the study of critical steps in animal development researchers are increasingly turning to the cnidarians, a phylum that includes jellyfish and corals, as they retain relatively simple body plans and yet are more clearly multi-cellular organisms than the somewhat colonial sponges. This week we have published four protocols concerning the cnidarian Nematostella vectensis, more commonly known as the starlet sea anemone, to act as a very basic ‘starter kit’ for anyone wishing to work with this organism.

Nematostella is a native of the east coast of the United States. It spends its time buried in mud feeding through its mouth, which is surrounded by two rings of tentacles. Slightly paradoxically they are classed as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, but are also behaving as invasive aliens on the south coast of England and the west coast of the United States. But they grow fast and prolifically in the lab and have a sequenced genome1.nprot_2013_044-F5

The four protocols take us through some essential steps in working with Nematostella. John Finnerty and colleagues describe their approach to collection rearing, spawning and regeneration (doi:10.1038/nprot.2013.044)2, Isolation of DNA, RNA and proteins (doi:10.1038/nprot.2012.151)3, and characterization of RNA and protein expression (doi:10.1038/nprot.2013.014)4. To complete the quartet, Mark Martindale explains how his lab approaches overexpression and knockdown studies in this versatile beastie (doi:10.1038/nprot.2013.009)5.

We are hoping that this collection of protocols will provide a useful resource for aspiring cnidarian biologists. We would also be keen to see anyone with experience of working with Nematostella presenting their own protocols in the Protocol Exchange. The cluster also raises the following question:

Are there other emerging model organisms that are crying out for similar attention?


1. Putnam NH, Srivastava M, Hellsten U, Dirks B, Chapman J et al. Sea anemone genome reveals ancestral eumetazoan gene repertoire and genomic organization”. Science 317, 86–94 (2007).

2. Stefanik, D. J., Lauren E Friedman, L. E. & Finnerty, J. R. Collecting, rearing, spawning and inducing regeneration of the starlet sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis. Nature Protocols 8, 916-923 (2013).

3. Stefanik, D. J., Wolenski, F. S., Friedman, L. E., Gilmore T. D. & Finnerty,  J. R. Isolation of DNA, RNA and protein from the starlet sea anemone Nematostella vectensis. Nature Protocols 8, 892–899 (2013).

4. Wolenski, F.S., Layden, M. J., Martindale, M. Q., Gilmore, T. D. & Finnerty, J. R. Characterizing the spatiotemporal expression of RNAs and proteins in the starlet sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis. Nature Protocols 8, 900-915 (2013).

5. Layden, M. J., Röttinger, E., Wolenski, F. S., Gilmore, T. D. & Martindale, M. Q. Microinjection of mRNA or morpholinos for reverse genetic analysis in the starlet sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis. Nature Protocols 8, 924-934 (2013).

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Chris Surridge

Chief Editor, Nature Plants

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