The ‘Immortal’ Jellyfish

July 26, 2019

Turritopsis dohrnii, a small species of jellyfish native to the Mediterranean, is commonly known as the “immortal jellyfish, and it literally lives up to its name. Possessing the ability to revert to its a sexually immature stage instead of succumbing to an inevitable death, this tiny creature holds the secret to true biological immortality.

Humans have fantasized about immortality since the beginning of time. We have countless myths and stories about it, but until the mid-1990s we had yet to find any proof that eternal life on this earth was possible. In 1996, researchers published a study about a small species of jellyfish capable of reverting from an adult, solitary individual to its juvenile colonial state, thus cheating death and achieving potential immortality.

Just as long as it wasn’t consumed by predators and it could be sustained by its environment, the jellyfish could repeat this cycle indefinitely and live forever. To this day, the immortal jellyfish remains the only known immortal animal.

All known jellyfish exist in two forms: polyp form and medusa form. But while most jellyfish grow from polyp to medusa before ultimately succumbing to the inevitable end of their life cycle, Turritopsis dohrnii possesses the ability to switch between the two stages and cheat death. It does this through a process known as transdifferentiation, which basically involves the transformation of a mature cell into another type of mature cell.

Instead of dying like every other creature, the tiny immortal jellyfish first retracts its tentacles , turning into a blob, and then drops to the ocean floor and reverts to its polyp stage within three days. Scientists found that the new polyp is genetically identical to the original jellyfish, but it’s a juvenile version of it. Think of it as a chicken reverting to an egg, or a moth to a caterpillar.

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