Ker Than for National Geographic News
January 29, 2009
A potentially "immortal" jellyfish species that can age backward—theBenjamin Button of the deep—is silently invading the world's oceans, swarm by swarm, a recent study says.
Like the Brad Pitt movie character, the immortal jellyfish transforms from an adult back into a baby, but with an added bonus: Unlike Benjamin Button, the jellyfish can do it over and over again—though apparently only as an emergency measure. Enlarge Photo Printer Friendly Email to a Friend
• Mysterious Jellyfish Swarms Seen in Europe, U.S. (August 11, 2008)
• Pictures of Jellyfish and Other Translucent Creatures …show more content…
“ Escaping death and achieving potential immortality” writes the first scientists to describe this phenomenon , but is this just a neat trick, or can some species really live forever? This jelly is now known as the “immortal jelly”, and its infamy has grown with the years. But no one has published a report that this jelly can truly withstand the test of time; in fact, only one paper has been published suggesting some jelly relatives could live forever.
Like many jelly species, members of the group Hydra have a polyp stage that reproduces asexually by budding off little clones, and people have speculated this could last for thousands of years. So Daniel E. Martínez closely watched members of one species, Hydra vulgaris, for 4 years, and in that time very few animals died . Dr. Martínez suggests that since animals that start reproducing only a few days after birth, such as Hydra, tend to kick the bucket earlier than animals that wait, 4 years is a pretty long time. But does that really mean they’re …show more content…
And do these clone banks ever change or grow old? The answer was a unanimous “yeah, kinda.” According to aquarists at both the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the New England Aquarium, over about six years clonal populations do get “tired.” They become more fragile, don’t produce healthy jellies, and stop responding to environmental signals. Many aquarists replace their polyp stocks with new baby polyps quite regularly, so that none of this fickleness gets in the way of jelly production. The whole colony may continue to kick, but it gets more and more fragile over time. To me, this sounds a lot like aging.
When humans die it’s not because a special gene turns on that shouts: “YOUR TIME IS UP!” Rather, little things start breaking all over, cells stop dividing and those that do accumulate mutations, this is why getting older is often accompanied by all sorts of biological issues. The truth is, accumulating mutations and cell gunk isn’t something special about aging people, even clone lines of E. coli bacteria accumulate harmful cellular products over time . This is just the cost of being alive. So does the “immortal jellyfish” Turritopsis dohrnii really last forever, even with all this gunk slowly working its way into its cells and