The Curious Story of Immortal Jellyfish

By on Sunday, July 2, 2017
Immortal Jellyfish

The myth of immortality has been one of humankind’s mysterious fantasies. Way back, expeditions have been made to find the fountain of youth because people always levitated to the idea of being able to live forever. There are plenty of species that live for an incredibly long time such as tortoises that live for 150 years and even whales, some of which can live as long as 600 years. But no living creature was ever found to be immortal. In fact, today, we know immortality to be a myth. Or is it?

The What, the Where and the How

Deep within the Mediterranean Sea lays a species of jellyfish that are actually immortal. We may have scrounged the lands in hopes of finding proof of immortality or escaped into our imagination to admire fictional creatures like vampires in search of immortality but we failed to dive into the great seas. Our answer, it seems lays deep below the serene oceans that surrounds us. The TurritopsisDohrnii was discovered in the 1880’s, however it was only in the 1990’s when scientists discovered the special ability they had. These incredible jellyfishes have the ability to transform their cells from its mature stage to a more youthful or immature stage. After they attain maturity and mate, they revert their age and become young again. This particular process is called transdifferentiation and it’s the closest thing we have to the concept of immortality in our world.

What do they look like?

The adult TurritopsisDohrnii grows up to be a 4.5 mm wide adult when it reaches the age for mating. When this jellyfish is threatened or injured gravely, it turns into a blob and its cells start transforming into different types of cells. Muscle cells might turn into sperm or nerve cells can transform into muscle cells. They are bell shaped tiny creatures and young ones have about 8 tentacles whereas the adult one can have up to 90 tentacles. Their stomach region has a brilliant red coloration which contrasts the blue hue that envelops the entire organism. They are truly a magnificent sight to behold.

TurritopsisDohrnii Jellyfish

The Life Cycle of the Immortal Jellyfish

There are two stages in the life cycle of this jellyfish, namely the polypoid stage and the medusa stage. The polypoidstage is the juvenilestage whereas the medusa is the adult stage. They start out as eggs and they start hatching within two days and kick starts the larvae stage. Within two weeks they mature and enter the medusa stage. Once the jellyfish reaches the medusa stage and mates, it starts reverting back to the polypoid stage. The warmer the water, the faster the jellyfish transforms from the polyp stage to the medusa stage. These jellyfish are also known to feed on plankton, fish eggs and small mollusks.

Immortality and Frailty

Can these Jellyfish die? Yes they can. If they are eaten or if they get affected by a deadly disease, they do die. They are tiny frail creatures after all. In many ways, it is nature’s way of striking a balance in our world. Could you imagine a top predator to be given such an insane ability like being able to live forever? It would have been disastrous if great white sharks or crocodiles had such abilities because in their own eco systems and discounting mankind, they are at the top of their respective food chain. However, nature finds a way where power and abilities reside in creatures that overall fit into a great, diverse and balanced world.

Turritopsis Nutricula

The Humorous Story following its Discovery

The beginning of this discovery is also quite fascinating. When scientists first observed the ability of these jellyfishes, the species of this amazing jellyfish was said to be TurritopsisNutricula but almost all articles online that showed pictures of this amazing aquatic animal had photographs of a TurritopsisRubra which is another type of jellyfish. So if you search for immortal jellyfish online, you might see a lot of articles about a Nutricula having pictures of a Rubra. It’s quite hilarious, if you think about it. The reason for this confusion was because it’s extremely hard to differentiate between them as the turritopsis genus can be found all over the world. Later, it wasfound out that the species that scientists had in their labs was from the Mediterranean Sea named TurritopsisDohrnii. The Nutricula is usually found in the Caribbean and North America while the Rubra is found near New Zealand.

What does this mean for human beings? Could the scientists find a way to help humanity by studying these marvelous jellyfishes? There have been reports of possible links between their special abilities and cancer. MicroRNAs or MiRNA are genetic material that controls genes and are the reason why these jellyfishes are able to transform one type of cell into another. Cancel cells have also been found to have alterations in the MiRNA and therefore, if scientists are able to control the MiRNAs, then they might be able to transform cancer cells to other types such as nerve or muscle cells. While the research in this direction is in its beginning stages, these beautiful and fascinating jellyfishes might be the cure for cancer one day.