Does the Immortal Jellyfish Potentially Hold the Secret to Eternal Life?

Courtesy of Giorgio Minguzzi (Flickr CC0)

In Spain, researchers seem to have figured out the genetic code of the immortal jellyfish, it got this title due to its ability to revive itself. That is something that scientists hope to help lead in human aging advancements. The invertebrate is able to escape age-related death by returning back to a juvenile age after reaching adulthood.

With this being said, it is not expected to see fast breakthroughs in human aging, said Carlos López-Otín said, one of two authors of the study published in the August 29 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “from this knowledge we hope to find much better answers to the many diseases that are associated with aging that overwhelm everyone today,” said López-Otín.

He and a team of researchers at the University of Oviedo located in Spain mapped the genome of the immortal jellyfish, (a species of jellyfish called Turritopsis dohrnii) and that of a comparable jellyfish (Turritopsis rubra), which does not have the revive to rejuvenate itself.

Alike to other types of jellyfish, the T. dohrnii goes through a two-part life cycle, living on the sea floor occurring during an asexual phase, where its main role is to survive during times when food is very scarce. Eventually, when the conditions are good enough, jellyfish reproduce sexually.

Courtesy of nevstokes (Flickr CC0)

The immortal jellyfish in question is tinier than the nail on your finger, according to the Natural History Museum located in London. The invertebrate has the ability to release sperm and eggs when it is mature when the immortal jellyfish is in its called medusa stage.

However, lots of different types of jellyfish have a certain capacity to reverse aging and revert to a larval stage. Most eventually lose this ability once they reach sexual maturity. This doesn’t occur for the T. dohrnii.

If the jellyfish ever comes under attack, if it is injured or is stressed – by changing temperatures or starvation – the medusa version of the jellyfish will shrink, “reabsorbing its tentacles and losing the ability to swim,” the museum said and resorts to a polyp, which is a previous life stage. In a process called transdifferentiating, the polyp cells regenerate into brand new jellyfish, before the invertebrate eventually grows up back into an adult.

A marine biologist, Maria Pascual Torner, a lead author of the study, told The Wall Street Journal that it is unlikely that humans can one day obtain the same anti-aging ability as the T. dohrnii.

“It’s a mistake to think that we will have immortality like this jellyfish because we are not jellyfish,” said the postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oviedo.

Still, the results of the study could potentially help us understand the secrets of aging in general, she said.

The study was aimed at understanding what made this jellyfish different by comparing the genetic sequence of T. dohrnii to that of Turritopsis rubra, which is a very close genetic cousin that does not have the ability to regenerate after sexual reproduction.

What they found out is that T. dohrnii has variations in its genome that may make it much better at repairing and copying DNA. They also seem to appear to be better at maintaining the ends of chromosomes called which is called telomeres. In humans and other species, telomere length has been looked to have been proven to shorten with age.

“We have known about this species being able to do a little evolutionary trickery for maybe about 15-20 years,” said Monty Graham, a jellyfish expert and director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography, who was not involved in the research.

The trick by the invertebrate has earned the species its nickname as the “immortal jellyfish,” a term that Graham admits is a little bit exaggerated.

Graham said the research has no immediate commercial value. “We can not look at it as, hey, we’re going to harvest these jellyfish and turn it into a skin cream,” he said. It has more to do with understanding the processes and the protein functionality that helps these jellyfish cheat death. “It’s one of those papers that I do think will eventually open up a door to a new line of study that is worth pursuing.”

Written By Lance Santoyo


CNN: New study could unearth the secret to how ‘immortal jellyfish’ reverses aging

USA Today: Scientists crack genetic code of the immortal jellyfish. Can it teach us about human aging?

Insider: Scientists have mapped the genetic code of the immortal jellyfish that can age in reverse after reaching adulthood

IFL Science: The Genetics That Make One Animal Immortal Have Been Revealed

Featured Image Courtesy of Giorgio Minguzzi Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Inset Image Courtesy of nevstokes‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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