Would you believe that the key to living forever may depend on…jellyfish?
The quest for immortality has been the endgame for many people who believe that living forever is a desirable thing. This has given rise to widespread fascination with vampires and the like who never get wrinkles, never get old, and never die.
However, the quest for eternal life may be ending soon for real, and without undead consequences, either.
There is a species of jellyfish called Turritopsis dohrnii (formerly identified as Turritopsis nutricula) that has the ability not only to regenerate but to revert to an earlier stage of their development (in gamer parlance, “saved game”) when they become sick, seriously injured, old, or the environment turns hostile. The process is called transdifferentiation in which mature cells change to whatever form they need to be to promote life, which is pretty much what human stem cells do.
The “immortal jellyfish” was first observed independently in 1988 in the Italian Riviera by marine-biology student Christian Sommer and in Japan by zoologist and university professor (and karaoke singer) Shin Kubota. It is believed that T. dohrnii is the only animal known to have such abilities, and potential human applications are, as you can imagine, quite exciting.
But first, they have to figure out how it’s done. But Shibota, who is recognized as the premier authority on T. dohrnii, is certain that the time will come when humans will unlock the secret to eternal life.