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Listen: Biologist Eva-Maria Collins on the Real-Life Hydra

The Serpent’s Maw: A Physics Perspective on Mouth Function and the Dynamics of Hydra Regeneration

Eva-Marie Collins
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In the fall, Associate Professor of Biology Eva-Maria Collins delivered “The Serpent’s Maw: A Physics Perspective on Mouth Function and the Dynamics of Hydra Regeneration,” a lecture in the physics colloquium series.

Named after the monster from the Greek mythology, the hydra, also known as the freshwater polyp, is famous for its regenerative abilities. While the real hydra is small and inconspicuous, it outperforms the fictional creature by its ability to regenerate from small tissue pieces or from cell aggregates after disintegration into individual cells. This process of self-organization of an initially near-uniform cell ball into an animal with a well-defined head-foot body axis poses fundamental questions regarding the cross-talk of biochemical and physical signaling driving organismal patterning.

“Reality is better than fiction, because hydra can really do these amazing things and it's a fantastic model system to study these questions of how mechanics influence patterning process,” says Collins. Her research focuses on the role of physical principles for living systems, including three major areas: biomechanics, asexual reproduction, and behavior and memory, with main model systems of freshwater planarians and hydras.

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