Medusa: A Review of an Ancient Cnidarian Body Form

  • Cheryl Lewis Ames
Part of the Results and Problems in Cell Differentiation book series (RESULTS, volume 65)


Medusae (aka jellyfish) have multiphasic life cycles and a propensity to adapt to, and proliferate in, a plethora of aquatic habitats, connecting them to a number of ecological and societal issues. Now, in the midst of the genomics era, affordable next-generation sequencing (NGS) platforms coupled with publically available bioinformatics tools present the much-anticipated opportunity to explore medusa taxa as potential model systems. Genome-wide studies of medusae would provide a remarkable opportunity to address long-standing questions related to the biology, physiology, and nervous system of some of the earliest pelagic animals. Furthermore, medusae have become key targets in the exploration of marine natural products, in the development of marine biomarkers, and for their application to the biomedical and robotics fields. Presented here is a synopsis of the current state of medusa research, highlighting insights provided by multi-omics studies, as well as existing knowledge gaps, calling upon the scientific community to adopt a number of medusa taxa as model systems in forthcoming research endeavors.



I am grateful to my PhD co-advisor Dr. Allen G. Collins and my master’s thesis advisor the late Professor Masashi Yamaguchi for their unwavering mentorship on all things medusa, and for photographs they graciously provided for use in this work: Figs. 7.1A, E, 7.2A, E, and 7.3A–J, M (AGC) and Fig. 7.1B (MY); all images were digitally retouched. I would also like to extend my gratitude to Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History interns Anna Klompen (Fig. 7.1D), Kate Muffett (Fig. 7.2D) and Mehr Kumar (Fig. 7.3K) for their assistance with photographs of live medusae at the cnidarian culture lab (The Aquaroom), and to Tara Lynn and Dr. Lauren Field for assistance with photographs of nematocysts (Fig. 7.4A and Fig 7.4D–F respectively). Figure 7.1C was digitally retouched from the original image by Avispa marina.jpg, Guido Gautsch, Toyota, Japan, derivative work, Mithril (Avispa marina.jpg) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons; Fig. 7.2G was digitally retouched from the original image by NOAA Ocean Explorer from USA [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons: All other images were photographed by the author in The Aquaroom (Smithsonian, Washington, DC) or National Aquarium’s Jellies Invasion exhibit (Baltimore, USA).


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Invertebrate ZoologyNational Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian InstitutionWashington, DCUSA

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