The Cnidaria represent the most ancient eumetazoan phylum. Members of this group possess typical animal cells and tissues such as sensory cells, nerve cells, muscle cells and epithelia. Due to their unique phylogenetic position, cnidarians have traditionally been used as a reference group in various comparative studies. We propose the colonial marine hydroid, Hydractinia, as a convenient, versatile platform for basic and applied research in developmental biology, reproduction, immunology, environmental studies and more. In addition to being a typical cnidarian representative, Hydractinia offers many practical and theoretical advantages: studies that are feasible in Hydra like regeneration, pattern regulation, and cell renewal from stem cells, can be supplemented by genetic analyses and classical embryology in Hydractinia. Metamorphosis of the planula larva of Hydractinia can be used as a model for cell activation and communication and the presence of a genetically controlled allorecognition system makes it a suitable model for comparative immunology. Most importantly, Hydractinia may be manipulated at most aspects of its (short) life cycle. It has already been the subject of many studies in various disciplines, some of which are discussed in this essay.
Copyright 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.