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Healthy aging, and the individual as metaorganism: lessons from non-senescent Hydra

Understanding aging and how it affects an organism’s life span is a fundamental problem in biology. A hallmark of aging is stem cell senescence, resulting in an impaired regenerative capacity and reduced tissue function. In addition, aging is characterized by profound remodelling of the immune system, a phenomenon referred to as immune-senescence. Yet, what is causing stem cell and immune-senescence? Moreover, multicellular organisms exist as metaorganisms comprised of the macroscopic host and synergistic interdependence with numerous microbial and eukaryotic species. Health, therefore, is fundamental multi-organismal.

The Bosch lab studies the intricate interactions within metaorganisms in a simple model system, the non-senescent cnidarian Hydra.

Cnidarians represent a key transition in the evolution of animal complexity, and are therefore critical to understand not only the origins of developmental mechanisms and their role in more complex organisms including humans but also the impact of environmental factors such as microbial interactions on host performance.

Our experimental studies have already shown that transcription factor FoxO modulates both stem cell proliferation and innate immunity, lending strong support to a role of FoxO as critical rate-of-aging regulator from Hydra to human.

The German Research Foundation (DFG) is funding this research by a new Collaborative Research Center (CRC/SFB 1182) entitled “Origin and Function of Metaorganisms”. The overall goal of the CRC 1182 is to improve understanding the role of multi-organismic interactions for health and disease. We are particularly interested in the specific functional consequences of the interactions, the underlying regulatory principles, and also the resulting impact on host life history and evolutionary fitness in
selected host systems.


  • Constructing a model of how FoxO responds to diverse environmental factors provides a framework for how stem cell factors might contribute to aging.
  • Realizing that animals exist only within a partnership with symbionts as metaorganisms has led to three important realizations:

♦   First, it is becoming increasingly clear that to understand the physiology, evolution and development of a given species, we cannot study the species in isolation.

♦   Second, the health and fitness of animals, including humans, appears to be fundamentally multi-organismal. Disturbance within the complex community can have drastic consequences for the well-being of the members.

♦   Finally, the holobiont may be an important unit of evolutionary selection, a selection of “teams” containing many genomes and species.

We communicate all our observations and results directly to the public in our news section.



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Tim Lachnit Grant DAAD

Teaching in the Bosch lab:

Educating the young scientist as a “boundary worker of the future” who has deep knowledge in evolutionary developmental biology and a “working fluency” in several other disciplines, capable to integrate the knowledge across subdisciplines within the context of “ecology of development”.


TB mit Schülern BioOlympide 2013 3 Schüler Ricarda Huch Schule 2015 Portugal IMG_7553