Home Cellular science What jellyfish can tell us about immortality

What jellyfish can tell us about immortality

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There is a type of jellyfish that is one of the few creatures on the planet that can be considered immortal. To encounter Turritopsis dohrnii, the species of jellyfish that never dies. At least not in the way we might understand death. The cellular mechanism behind its longevity is called transdifferentiation, and it’s a mechanism that science has been trying to learn to use in our own context.

The immortal jellyfish, as T. dohrnii has been dubbed, doesn’t exactly live forever without aging – in fact, in the face of any outside threat, he undergoes a reverse aging process and transforms into an infantile state (the jellyfish version of this). Going back to a jellyfish’s origins can help put this into perspective: Essentially, a fertilized jellyfish egg develops into something called the planula, which settles to the ocean floor. There, it grows into a colony of polyps that eventually release “jellyfish,” or genetically identical adult jellyfish.

A German marine biologist named Christian Sommer discovered this ability in 1988, and science has never rested on the question of immortality since. In a 1996 paper called ‘Reverse the life cycle‘, the scientists made a startling claim: “This discovery appears to debunk the most fundamental law of the natural world – you are born, then you die.”

So when one of these jellyfish suffers an injury, faces starvation, or is otherwise endangered by circumstances, it can turn back into a polyp and reappear as more identical jellyfish. “This is one of the most amazing discoveries of our time,” said Tasmania-based jellyfish researcher Lisa-ann Gershwin.

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The regeneration process means that jellyfish have the ability to “start over” To infinity. Its dying cells reaggregating back to an early stage of life is a mechanism that holds the keys to the realm of immortality – but what kind? Here’s the problem with Theseus’ ship: if the “reborn” jellyfish is made up of cells that have fundamentally changed, is it still the same jellyfish as before? Genetically speaking, yes — but in humans it wouldn’t have the same philosophical meaning. This is why many are specific in noting that jellyfish can be biologically immortal but that’s it. This allows jellyfish to undergo a reset when things go wrong. “This life sucks, let’s try again,” as one Reddit user Put the.

But for its infinite regenerative abilities, we’re hardly doing all we can to understand the exact mechanics at play, or even understanding the creature’s genome to examine what’s responsible for fundamentally altering the natural laws of the world. Science has made progress on this in a recent study, published in PNAS in August, who unpacked more aspects of the mechanism by comparing the immortal jellyfish to its deadly cousin, the Turritopsis rubra. “…we define T. dohrnii as ‘immortal’ because the probability of rejuvenation of sexually mature jellyfish is up to 100%, with no apparent limit in the number of cycles of ontogenetic inversion for a given individual,” the study notes, adding that T.rubra would be rated as “deadly” in comparison.

Our slowness to understand T. dohrnii does not prevent their spread: they are also notoriously invasive. “It is possible to imagine a distant future in which most other species of life are extinct, but the ocean will be overwhelmingly made up of immortal jellyfish, a great eternal gelatin consciousness,” Remarks The New York Times. Of all the complex and majestic creatures that roam the Earth and its seas, the humble and deceptively simple jellyfish may live to outlive us all. Underestimating them indicates an inherent pride in the way we understand the order of living things in the world – one that very few are beginning to question.

“The mystery of life is not hidden in the higher animals… It is hidden in the root. And at the root of the Tree of Life is jellyfish,” said Shin Kubota, one of the few scientists in the world to study jellyfish. Told The temperature.


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Kubota talks about the marginalization of tiny creatures in the study of animal biology – one we may be noticing lately. The renewed attention to jellyfish is linked to the fact that we have realized how genetically similar they are to ourselves. “There is a shocking amount of genetic similarity between jellyfish and human beings,” said Kevin J. Peterson, a molecular paleobiologist. This means that understanding the genome of the immortal jellyfish could bring us closer to dramatic advances in human medicine. If not immortality, it could extend life by tackling some of the most unbeatable forms of disease that shorten it, like cancer.

There is another creature in the same phylum with the unique ability to live seemingly forever: Hydras. But the mechanics are slightly different: they can regrow lost body parts or regenerate as entirely new creatures from detached tissue. “Cut a hydra into segments, and each segment will become a new hydra. Mix one together and you end up with a soup of cells. new hydra, said UC Davis College of Biological Sciences. Stem cells are essential to this process: in human embryos, they look like virgin cells that eventually differentiate into cells with specialized functions that make up our organ systems. But hydras have powerful stem cells and can be composed entirely of them, earning them the nickname “eternal embryo.”

The genomic similarities between these creatures and humans mean that maybe, just maybe, we have those abilities too. All you have to do is unlock them. One theory is that there is a gene – called the FOXO gene – that is responsible for Hydras not aging at all. And the scientists observed that in humans who lived over 100 years, there was a mutation in their own FOXO gene. others to research found three different stem cells behind this regenerative ability.

In other words, we can expect to learn how to modify our own bodies to improve our quality of life by eliminating some of the deadliest diseases that deteriorate them – by studying some of the creatures we least expected to learn about. But as for not aging at all? We are perhaps a bit too complex for that.

Part of the remarkable abilities of the jellyfish or hydra also lies in their simplicity as organisms. Some, like Kubota, wonder if we even deserve it at all. “We are so smart and civilized, but our hearts are very primitive. If our hearts weren’t primitive, there would be no wars. I fear that we are applying science too soon, as we did with the atomic bomb. In our quest to live forever, documented by many myths and legends, we may first need to know who we are – and find that we have some cleaning to do in our own consciences. Jellyfish may be less complex as organisms, but as holders of the keys to immortality, they might possess wisdom that perhaps eludes our own species. What are we willing to give up to find out?