Theoretically, they could live on forever. By forever, we mean for ever. Welcome to the world of the immortal Jellyfish.
You have to admit, amongst the multitudes of strange and beautiful creatures on earth, jellyfish are one of the most intriguing and fascinating ones. From their name to their looks to their characteristics, it seems as though they are nature’s go-to organisms for endless experimentation. Despite how weak and, well, funny they seem, they have managed to be one of the oldest multi-organ animals to survive for over 600 million years. Now, while some of them have abilities like glowing in the dark, having deadly stings, and living as a nearly transparent being without most internal organs, the prize for coolest jellyfish power would have to go to Turritopsis dohrnii. Why? Because they are as immortal as it gets!
The Secret To Biological Immortality
The Turritopsis dohrnii starts its life cycle pretty much like other jellyfish. The fertilized egg grows into a small larva called a planula, which then turns into a somewhat self-sufficient polyp after attaching itself to a solid surface. The polyp clones itself and soon enough, a small section of the original polyp or the clones becomes an independent organism called ephyra. The fully grown adult jellyfish is called a medusa (cool name, I know). Now, while major developmental changes stop here for regular members of this species, our unique ‘immortal jellyfish’ has a neat trick up its sleeve.
If it faces external threats like injury, extreme environment, or starvation, a fully grown immortal jellyfish is able to drop down onto the ocean floor and effectively turn itself into a blob, returning to the polyp stage of life. From there, it again starts the journey to becoming a medusa. While many species of jellyfish die after reproducing, this one can simply fall back into a sexually immature stage. So, in theory, this jellyfish could live forever.
Complete Immortality or Loopholes In Between?
When you think ‘immortal’, you think of a being (probably a vampire) that has existed for over a millennia and has survived through battles because it can’t be killed. The jellyfish may be biologically immortal, but there’s no guarantee it will live forever. Confused?
While the jellyfish can control its aging, it is still a pretty weak creature. It has a lot of predators in the sea, from fishes to sharks to turtles and even other jellyfish. Also, due to the genetic similarity between most of the specimens of Turritopsis dohrnii studied, it is hard to say if it really remains the same individual after the resetting process. I mean, it’s not like you can ask it if it remembers its previous life, right?
Finally, since research on them only started in the early 1980s, we’re still not certain how long they can actually live and continue to repeat their life cycle. I guess only time will tell, though this little guy seems to have plenty of that.
While there is no danger of them overpopulating the earth anytime soon, they have pretty good adaptable instincts. They have been known to hitchhike around the world by sticking to ship surfaces, getting distributed to more and more tropical areas around the seas of the globe. Don’t try to go out and get one as a pet though, because as fascinating as it is for marine biologists, it really doesn’t have much to offer to a fun-seeking human.
A Matter of Interest for Medical Science
Biologists have identified this immortality as being powered by a process called transdifferentiation. This is basically when a fully formed specialized adult cell is able to become a completely different type of specialized cell- one which suits the particular stage of the life cycle that the jellyfish regresses to. This is some godly adaptive ability right there, where it takes just a couple of days for a medusa to metamorphose back into a polyp. Despite the mystery shrouding transdifferentiation, the secret probably lies in the DNA of Turritopsis dohrnii. It’s like a fully grown chicken turning into an egg- impossible, but utterly amazing if it were to happen.
After learning about this, it’s not surprising if you’re eager to get your hands on some jellyfish juice for immortality. Sadly though, humans are far from achieving the level of transdifferentiation that this simple organism seems to possess. It’s kind of embarrassing, really; a jellyfish that is barely 5 mm in width and has its internal organs on full display has more of a superpower than the “mightiest species” on earth.
However, in-depth study of this creature can lead us to the base of cellular regeneration and tissue regeneration, and who knows, maybe one day we can transplant some jellyfish genes into ourselves and become immortal like them. You might wanna look out for sprouting tentacles on your body, though!
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