Miranda Howe, a junior at the UW, has been feeding the hydras for UW associate professor Martha Bosma’s research group since spring of her freshman year. These hydras, however, are not mythical many-headed monsters, but rather freshwater relatives of anemones.

Hydras are simple animals with only two layers of cells that can regenerate after bisection. They are named after an analogous monster from Greek mythology that grows two new heads from the site of one that has been removed.

“They’re really interesting because you can study how multiple cells interact, but they’re very simple,” Howe said. “Things don’t get super complicated the way they might with a mammal where you have so many factors and so many things we don’t understand.”

Now in her third year working in Bosma’s group, Howe has taken on her own project looking at specific genes in Hydra that may be responsible for making gap junctions, which are places where two cells are connected through protein channels. The gap junctions assist in cell signaling and can be used to study how cells signal to respond to stimuli.

“If we can understand this model of signaling, it could be expanded to more complicated organisms to see how cells signal back and forth, how neurons can communicate,” Howe said. “And they’re [the Hydra] a really good model for looking at, on a simple level, how cells communicate to coordinate reactions.”