Thursday, August 20, 2015

Urban Legends - The Immortal Jellyfish

Turritopsis Nutricula, the Immortal Jellyfish
What if I tell you there is a species of animal that can age both forwards and backwards, making it an immortal living organism. And what if I tell you that the powerful creature with this incredible characteristic is one of the tiniest jellyfish ever seen. Well, in this case is completely fair saying that size doesn’t matter. After the Random Facts about Jellyfish and The history of the BlueDragon (click the links for more), here the immortality life circle of Turritopsis Nutricula, the Immortal Jellyfish.

Most jellyfish have a lifetime of between a few hours to a few months. Few species can also live for several years. But only the Turritopsis Nutricula have the unique ability to live forever. They can grow old like every other living thing, but then can reverse this process and turn young again.  Unfortunately, this kind of jellyfish can only grow to a maximum of around 1/5 of an inch in diameter, so they are an extremely easy food for lots and lots of predators. But, without this jinx of being an easy prey, this jellyfish has been able to achieve immortality.

Turritopsis Nutricula polyp stadium
The life circle of this creature is pretty simple.  The male jellyfish releases sperm into the water and it may unite with the egg of a female.  Eventually this will produce a free swimming larva, called planulae, that abandons the body of the female and float around until finally settling on the sea floor and attaching to something strong and sturdy like a rock. The next form of this creature is a polyp that look like a plant. This plant like animal feeds on various things like plankton and, over a certain amount of time, a colony of polyps will form from the single polyp, all connected with feeding tubes. Some years later, the colony of polyps will begin producing free swimming jellyfish, the immortal ones.

The life circle of the jelly

The Turritopsis Nutricula float away with the currents, gathering food as they encounter it. The real miracle happens when food is scarce or they are injured or various other environmental issues occur. These events trigger a unique mechanism within the animal that causes it to begin to grow younger.

In this process, called transdifferentiation, cells are able to change themselves into other cell. In this case (for the record, the Turritopsis Nutricula is the only creature in the world that can use this process to rejuvenate at any point of the jelly maturation) the jellyfish cells transform into the previous stadium of polyp cells. All the cells of the organism  grow young all the way to the point where they once again become a single polyp, starting the process all over again.

After some time, the polyp will be able to grow a new colony. Once again, other jellyfish are released from the polyp colony, each with the same genetic code as the original jellyfish that formed the polyp. It is thought that this process can go on forever, assuming the animals don’t die of some disease or aren’t killed by predator. This effectively makes them  biologically immortal.

This is not what normal people think when talking about immortality. But this can be considered as the nearest thing to never-ending life. So think about it. A jellyfish can last longer than humanity. Sometimes nature is wonderful, don’t you think?  
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