Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Want to Live Forever? Be a Jellyfish

Not too bright - but may live forever
A very specific jellyfish. Turritopsis nutricula: the world's only 'immortal' creature
Turritopsis nutricula may be the world’s only “immortal” creature.

Jellyfish usually die after propagating but Turritopsis reverts to a sexually immature stage after reaching adulthood and is capable of rejuvenating itself.

The 4-5mm diameter creature, technically known as a hydrozoan, is the only known animal that is capable of reverting to its juvenile polyp state.
Technically, this should be the world's only immortal multicellular creature.  There are lots of creatures, including bacteria and many protozoa and algae, that reproduce by fission, with each "daughter" cell a replicate of the original cell, that are truly "immortal"; each has lived since that cell was originated (which could be in the dim dark past, or relatively recently as a result of some sexual recombination), and will die only through disease predation, or misadventure, and not by old age.
Theoretically, this cycle can repeat indefinitely, rendering it potentially immortal.

Found in warm tropical waters Turritopsis is believed to be spreading across the world as ships’ ballast water is discharged in ports.

Though solitary, they are predatory creatures and mature asexually from a polyp stage.

The jellyfish and its reversal of the ageing process is now the focus of research by marine biologists and geneticists. It is thought to achieve the feat through the cell development process of transdifferentiation, in which cells transform from one type to another.

The switching of cell roles is usually seen only when parts of an organ regenerate. However, it appears to occur normally in the Turritopsis life cycle.
 Theoretically covers a lot.  I think it likely that even though the jellyfish can revert back to a "juvenile" (actually alternate) form, the organism continues to accumulate age related damage, and eventually dies of old age.

In practice, the sea is a merciless environment, and the chance that a jellyfish would survive many such cycles is negligible.

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