What do you get when you combine the immortality of Highlander with the backwards aging ability of Benjamin Button? Turritopsis dohrnii, the immortal jellyfish! This little invertebrate is smaller than a pinky nail, measuring about 4.5mm wide in its adult state, but credited with being able to live forever. Of course, this excludes extreme physical damage or being eaten.
The highlander of the sea is what's called a hydrozoa, a class of invertebrates that can live in freshwater or the ocean, and immortal jellyfish can be found all over the world. They are transparent with a bright red stomach and can have up to 90 tentacles. Turritopsis dohrnii can also easily be confused with Turritopsis nutricula and rubra, which look similar but don't come with the cool immortality feature.
While there are still many mysteries regarding immortal jellyfish, these tiny creatures are important to humanity for obvious reasons. But is this jellyfish really immortal? And, more importantly, would Connor MacLeod approve?
They Are Genetically Similar To Humans
Molecular paleobiologist Kevin J. Peterson notes, "There’s a shocking amount of genetic similarity between jellyfish and human beings." He is studying the tiny strands of genetic material called microRNA that act as on/off switches for our genes, basically the mechanism that allows transdifferentiation to take place.
He's not the only one studying the genetics of sea life as it relates to humans. Scientists have long thought humans evolved from sea sponges, thus making jellyfish one of our first ancestors.
They May Help Us Discover A Cure For CancerVideo: YouTube
Researchers don't believe Turritopsis dohrnii hold any secrets humans could apply to primate anti-aging strategies, but there is the possibility immortal jellyfish could help discover a cure for cancer.
Biologist Stefano Piraino notes they are able to switch certain genes on and off, reprogramming their cells in the process. If researchers can determine how these jellies are able to do this, it may provide clues to help humans fight cancer, a disease which invades and damages cells.
Violence And Disease Can Still Kill Them
These jellies may be immortal, but they're not invulnerable. Turritopsis dohrnii can still die from extreme physical damage, disease, or being eaten. They can't, however, starve to death. When faced with a food shortage, they will simply reverse the aging process.
They can also recover from serious physical damage, if given the chance to recuperate. Japanese scientist Shin Kubota demonstrated this by mutilating an immortal jelly in his lab, then watching it revert to a blob state and eventually regenerate itself.
It Took Almost 100 Years To Discover Their Ability
The immortal jellyfish was first discovered in the Mediterranean Sea in 1883, but it wasn't until over 100 years later that biology student Christian Sommer discovered their unique abilities. He collected specimens on a snorkeling trip, and later discovered in the lab that the tiny jellies wouldn't die. In 1996, biologists continuing Sommer's research published a paper called "Reversing The Life Cycle." Unfortunately, outside of the academic world, no one really paid attention to it.