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Single-cell atavism reveals an ancient mechanism of cell type diversification in a sea anemone

Babonis LS, Enjolras C, Reft AJ, Foster BM, Hugosson F, Ryan JF, Daly M, Martindale MQ
Nat Commun. 2023;14:885. doi:10.1038/s41467-023-36615-9
Cnidocytes are the explosive stinging cells unique to cnidarians (corals, jellyfish, etc). Specialized for prey capture and defense, cnidocytes comprise a group of over 30 morphologically and functionally distinct cell types. These unusual cells are iconic examples of biological novelty but the developmental mechanisms driving diversity of the stinging apparatus are poorly characterized, making it challenging to understand the evolutionary history of stinging cells. Using CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genome editing in the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis, we show that a single transcription factor (NvSox2) acts as a binary switch between two alternative stinging cell fates. Knockout of NvSox2 causes a transformation of piercing cells into ensnaring cells, which are common in other species of sea anemone but appear to have been silenced in N. vectensis. These results reveal an unusual case of single-cell atavism and expand our understanding of the diversification of cell type identity.
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Organism or Cell Type: 
Nematostella vectensis (sea anemone)
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