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Cell Biol Toxicol. 2008 Dec;24(6):483-502. doi: 10.1007/s10565-008-9107-5. Epub 2008 Oct 28.

Environmental sensing and response genes in cnidaria: the chemical defensome in the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis.

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Biology Department MS #32, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA.


The starlet sea anemone Nematostella vectensis has been recently established as a new model system for the study of the evolution of developmental processes, as cnidaria occupy a key evolutionary position at the base of the bilateria. Cnidaria play important roles in estuarine and reef communities, but are exposed to many environmental stressors. Here, I describe the genetic components of a "chemical defensome" in the genome of N. vectensis and review cnidarian molecular toxicology. Gene families that defend against chemical stressors and the transcription factors that regulate these genes have been termed a chemical defensome and include the cytochromes P450 and other oxidases, various conjugating enyzymes, the ATP-dependent efflux transporters, oxidative detoxification proteins, as well as various transcription factors. These genes account for about 1% (266/27,200) of the predicted genes in the sea anemone genome, similar to the proportion observed in tunicates and humans, but lower than that observed in sea urchins. While there are comparable numbers of stress-response genes, the stress sensor genes appear to be reduced in N. vectensis relative to many model protostomes and deuterostomes. Cnidarian toxicology is understudied, especially given the important ecological roles of many cnidarian species. New genomic resources should stimulate the study of chemical stress sensing and response mechanisms in cnidaria and allow us to further illuminate the evolution of chemical defense gene networks.

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