Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality?


The oceans take up about ¾ of the earth’s total area and it is a hotbed for some really unusual creatures that scientists are discovering just now. In fact, more and more unusual water animals wash up on shores and beaches all over the world as the years go by. One unusual ocean creature that proves to be really interesting to scientists and people, in general, is the immortal jellyfish. Why just the name itself is enough to make you wonder what earned the jellyfish the grandiose moniker.
• After more than 4,000 years — almost since the dawn of recorded time, when Utnapishtim told Gilgamesh that the secret to immortality lay in a coral found on the ocean floor — man finally discovered eternal life in 1988. He found it, in fact, on the ocean floor. The discovery was made unwittingly by Christian Sommer, a German marine-biology student in his early 20s. He was spending the summer in Rapallo, a small city on the Italian Riviera, where exactly one century earlier Friedrich Nietzsche conceived “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”: “Everything goes, everything comes back; eternally rolls the wheel of being. Everything dies, everything blossoms again. . . .”
• The unique regeneration process of the mature immortal jellyfish is quite unique. When it is injured or starving, it will attach itself to a surface in warm waters and turns into a sort of living blob. From this blob state, its cells will undergo a process called “transdifferentiation”.
• Transdifferentiation is a process wherein cells will turn into different kinds of cells. For instance, the muscle cells of the immortal jellyfish can turn into egg cells or even sperm cells. Nerve cells may also turn into muscle cells, and this means that the immortal jellyfish has transformation powers, the likes of which have never been seen and unmatched in the animal kingdom.
• Ever since the discovery of the immortal jellyfish in the Mediterranean Sea, more identical species have been found in places like the Atlantic Ocean side of Panama, Spain, and even Japan. The reason they are so spread out is that they get caught in ballast waters that come from long-distance ocean cargo vessels.
• Though most of the species are genetically identical, they have come up with different physical adaptations depending on their environments. For instance, specimens that live in tropical waters have 8 tentacles while ones from more temperate regions have 24 tentacles.
• Despite the “immortal” tag, these jellyfish can and do die. For instance, they still get eaten by predators and the process of transdifferentiation only kicks in when they have reached maturity. If they starve or get sick as polyps, they do not regenerate and therefore die.
But we still don’t understand how it ages in reverse. There are several reasons for our ignorance, all of them maddeningly unsatisfying. There are, to begin with, very few specialists in the world committed to conducting the necessary experiments. The most frustrating explanation for our dearth of knowledge about the immortal jellyfish is of a more technical nature. The genus, it turns out, is extraordinarily difficult to culture in a laboratory. It requires close attention and an enormous amount of repetitive, tedious labor; even then, it is under only certain favorable conditions, most of which are still unknown to biologists, that a Turritopsis will produce offspring.

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