Immortality is already here… but only if you are a certain species of jellyfish!
Now we’re not talking Portuguese Man-o-War giant jellyfish, but Turritopsis nutricula which weighs in at a mere 5mm in length. It has the ability to revert its cells back to their earliest form and start growing anew. Over and over again. This usually happens in response to a crisis, but scientists have seen this occur repetitively. Just imagine if we could revert back to being a new-born babe in response to a crisis such as learning that you’re going to get the sack from work, you’ve got rising damp in the downstairs kitchen, or, best of all, you’ve been told you’ve got a rare disease and only weeks to live!
The tiny creature was discovered in the Mediterranean Sea in 1883, but its unique ticket to immortality through regression and then regeneration was not known until the mid-1990s.
If a mature Turritopsis is threatened and this can include receiving actual injury or lack of food and starvation, it attaches itself to a surface in warm ocean waters and converts itself into a micro-blob. From that state, its cells undergo “transdifferentiation”, transforming into different types of cells. Muscle cells can become sperm or eggs, or nerve cells can change into muscle cells. This is something never before seen in the animal kingdom, and may be the only creature capable of doing this.
Is every Turritopsis immortal and death-defying? No. Before they are mature adults, they can die of injury, disease, being eaten by predators, or starvation without having the ability to revert back to a blob, regenerate and save themselves. Even after maturation, they can still die through an instant trauma, such as being eaten, washed up out of the sea, or sucked into a cargo-ships tanks and poisoned. But if there’s enough warning and the environment itself isn’t hostile, then hey-presto- transdifferentiation and a new phase of life begins, which can be repeated ad nauseum.
The trick of course is to see if the mini-jellyfish DNA is compatible with other animals, and eventually humans. For now, we’ve just got to look after ourselves, and take it on the chin and carry on whenever we encounter crises!