This Jellyfish Can Live Forever


Photo Credit: Takashi Murai/The New York Times Syndicate/Redux

Calista Freeland, Writer/Editor

Turritopsis Dohrnii – Is It Really Immortal?
Photo Credit: Peter Schuchert/The Hydrozoa Directory

Turritopsis dohrnil may sound like a magical spell or fantasy realm, but it is actually the name of a mysterious jellyfish. But much like its name, this jellyfish has magical powers… or at least everlasting ones.  Originally, it was known as Turritopsis nutricula and was discovered in 1883. It wasn’t until 1988 that a German biology student named Christian Sommer discovered the immortal powers of this invertebrate while studying hydrozoans in Rapallo, Italy. When observing different organisms in Petri dishes, he realized that the jellyfish was behaving oddly. The jellyfish literally aged in reverse: aging backwards “younger” and “younger” until it reached the earliest possible point of development. At this point, it restarted its life cycle. From this discovery, researchers in Genoa continued his studied and published a paper called “Reversing the Life Cycle” in which they discussed how the jellyfish could stop at any point during its lifecycle and transform back into a polyp. This defied all knowledge scientists have about life and death- how could something live and defy dying?

Nicknamed the “Benjamin Button of Jellyfish,” it is found in the Mediterranean Sea and off the coast of Japan. It starts off life like many other organisms, beginning as a larva. Then they continue their cycle by developing into free-swimming planula that colonize into a community of polyps that grow up from the seafloor into cylindrical shapes. From this point, they form the jellyfish (medusa) that they are known as and break off from their polyps once reaching adulthood. These jellyfish don’t reverse their age for no reason. This evolutionary adaptation has been selected for as a response to threats such as starvation or other environmental threats. The jellyfish will give itself a second chance at life by retracting its tentacles and shrinking, falling to the seafloor, and beginning the process of becoming a sexually immature larva and eventually forming new polyps.

Turritopsis dohrnii (@Turritopsisdoh) | Twitter
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So the jellyfish can’t die? Well, that’s not necessarily true. The jellyfish can be killed by predators, just like any other form of prey. What makes the jellyfish unique is that it has the ability to prevent death before it happens. No, it can’t magically come back to life after it dies, but it can stop its demise from happening in the first place.

You’d think that this jellyfish would be extensively studied. Since the Middle Ages, people have sought the elixir of life. Skincare and technology companies today are always searching for a new way to expand their business ventures and make a bigger profit. But despite this, relatively little has been researched regarding the rejuvenation powers of Turritopsis dohrnil until recently. The “Benjamin Button of Jellyfish” could have amazing impacts in the world of stem cell research due to the fact that transdifferentiation- the transformation of other cells besides stem cells into other cells- occurs when they transform into their younger selves. Basically, pretty much any cell in the body of these mysterious creatures can become any other type of cell. This type of evolutionary adaptation is important because it can be used on humans to regenerate human tissue that has been damaged or destroyed. So while scientists having been studying other uses for the unique biological makeup of these invertebrates, cosmetic uses have not yet been explored. This is likely because, frustratingly, they are extremely difficult to culture in a laboratory. They are very sensitive to their environmental conditions and will only reproduce when the conditions are most favorable. (And scientists don’t fully know or understand what these conditions are!)


Scientists Discover The Immortal Jellyfish That Is Probably The Only Creature To Live Forever
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For now, the possibly of living forever won’t be around for a long time. However, with continued studying an research, this immortal jellyfish can improve the lives of millions who suffer from organ/skin necrosis. Though these little guys may not change our life cycles, they can lengthen the lives of those whose tissues are regenerated. And that, in itself, is pretty magical.

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