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Saturday, March 2, 2024

The Immortal Jellyfish: Does It Truly Live Forever?

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A species of jellyfish that is found around Japan, and in the Mediterranean Sea is believed to live forever. The Turritopsis dohrnii has the nickname, the ‘immortal jellyfish.’ So we do not have to hope for divine intervention or turn to science to know the secret to eternal life.

We are used to the image of a jellyfish as an opaque drifting balloon with dozens of trailing tentacles. But that is just the second stage of a jellyfish’s lifetime. They start their life as a tiny larva, in the shape of a cigar, that spirals through water. This larva then turns into a lump, called a polyp, which resembles a small sea anemone.

These polyps rapidly clone themselves and can cover a boat jetty in days. They bloom in massive numbers and are the smaller version of the jellyfish which we recognize.

But even more unique than their life stages are their ability to come back from the dead. Yes, the immortal jellyfish transforms itself.

The jellyfish has the unique ability to convert its cells backward once it reaches a certain age. You could say it can just decide to throw away the years and become young again. This immortal jellyfish is tiny, measuring only 2 inches (5 centimeters), but it has anywhere between 8 and 90 tentacles.

Though it is cool to be known as the immortal jellyfish, it is only biologically mortal in reality. So there is always the danger of a sea turtle or a tuna, or a shark lurking nearby waiting to devour the delicious morsel.

Technically speaking, the immortal jellyfish live by a process called trans-differentiation. In this process, one cell converts from one type to another through a process called metaplasias whereby stem cells of one tissue type switch to a different stem cell.

Read: Humpback Whales Have Made An Amazing Recovery But They Are Still In Danger

The alteration of the immortal jellyfish is linked to its death. When the Turritopsis dohrnii, the immortal jellyfish ‘dies’, it settles to the ocean floor, and decay begins to sets in.

But then an amazing transformation begins to take place. The cells of the immortal jellyfish begin to regenerate. It turns to polyps and then the next jellyfish emerges from the decaying body. The immortal jellyfish has gone back in time and moved to a previous stage in its life to begin life anew.

Researcher Dr. Lisa-Ann Gershwin, director at Marine Stinger Advisory Service says that this mind-blowing discovery stands as one of the utmost amazing finds of our times.

Other Creatures As Incredible As The Immortal Jellyfish

This is not the only instance when an immortal jellyfish has risen from the ashes. Back in 2011, a Chinese student of marine biology had kept a specimen of the Aurelia aurita (the moon jellyfish). He changed the tank and kept the dead jellyfish in another. Surprisingly, he noticed a fresh tiny polyp growing out of the dead moon jellyfish. The amazing regenerative process has led to some of them being dubbed immortal jellyfish. It has been noticed in five other jellyfish species.

immortal jellyfish

Scientists and marine biologists are struck by this amazing behavior and have always wanted to know the reason and cause behind this singular transformation. They feel that as it loses its strength with age and illness, or even when it is facing any danger, the immortal jellyfish musters an incredible amount of inner strength to regenerate and live again.

The process is initiated when the jellyfish’s bell, the rounder part of the creature that resembles a parachute, and the tentacles that hang from the body, start to break down. It begins to transform into a polyp again. It fastens itself to the surface and the transformation of a new jellyfish begins over again.

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This process by which the jellyfish, apparently dead, transforms into a fresh new life form, is called cellular trans-differentiation. The cells are transformed from one type to another. It leads to a completely dissimilar body plan in the process.

Dr. Gershwin isn’t sure that this amazing regeneration in the immortal jellyfish can in the future be replicated with humans. she says that there is a theoretical possibility that further research might throw up the possibility of a type of genetic splicing. 

The immortal jellyfish are not the only beings on Planet Earth who are blessed with some semblance of immortality. Yes, old age doesn’t seem to be the end of these creatures, though other causes like accidents and predators can always cut short their life. Some creatures can age backward and transform their cells into a younger state that will renew the process of growing into adulthood.

Nature Might Have An Answer After All

The planarian, one of the many flatworms of the traditional class Turbellaria, can regenerate itself when there are cut lengthwise or across. They form two separate worms. This ability to transform themselves limitlessly also applies to damages and aging tissues. The worms can thus cheat death indefinitely.

The tardigrade, a category of eight-legged segmented micro animals, colloquially known as moss piglets or water bears, is another practically immortal living being on this planet. These creatures have the incredible capacity to stick around for thousands of years and maybe even indefinitely the entering a state of cryptobiosis, a metabolic state of life that certain organisms enter as a response to hostile environmental conditions. Their metabolism practically comes to a halt.

immortal jellyfish

An incredible DNA repair mechanism allows the bacterium, Deinococcus radiodurans, to turn resistant to radiation. They can also come back from the dead thanks to the repair response of their incredible DNA structure. They can survive freezing, dehydration, acid, vacuum and have been listed as the toughest bacterium in the world. they are reported to resist 1.5 million rads of gamma radiation. A mere three thousandth of that would kill a human.

In a more familiar world, the turtles can live for centuries and their organs withstand the passage of time. Scientists believe that turtles might live indefinitely if they can stay away from diseases and predators. Another familiar living being with an incredible lifespan is the lobster. A specimen off Newfoundland was found to be 140 years old, and they keep getting bigger with the passing years.

Read: Giant Turtle Found Living: Related To A Galapagos Species Extinct A Century Ago

Do such creatures hold the key to an eternal youthfulness for us, humans, too? A multitude of factors contribute to aging in humans, and we are yet to understand many of them. Maybe mixing our genes with the jellyfish would soon help us regenerate like the immortal jellyfish and like Dr. Who makes a fresh regeneration whenever we find our older self too worn out. Perhaps the answers lie within these incredible species. 

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