There’s one film that stands out as a great with immortality and that’s ‘Highlander’ (you have to be of a certain age). If you haven’t seen it then please do so, it’s better than great. However the question is would we or wouldn’t we if we got the choice, be immortal!?
Well there is one animal that in theory is, if it isn’t consumed or if it doesn’t catch a deadly disease then our baby indeed cheats death and is truly immortal.
Enter Turritopsis nutricula or commonly known as the immortal jellyfish, yes immortal and to understand this we have to know about phenoptosis which is the name given to the process which causes the death of an organism.
By understanding the mechanisms of slow phenoptosis we may be able to halt or even reverse the processes that cause our aging and eventual deaths. Well, our baby the jellyfish has done this brilliantly. Not only does it recognise this but also has an amazing way to stop it, reverse it, and if this was not enough it has also drunk the waters of the fountain of youth.
So our baby, a small beast only 4.5 cm across and happily inhabiting the Mediterranean Sea until it was sucked up by some ocean liner in ballast water, then transported across the world, and duly discharged from the ship and thus they now inhabit waters off Panama and Japan, and doing very well indeed, thank you very much!
A jellyfish, to begin with starts life as a planktonic animal drifting until it settles out as a simple polyp, a jelly like organism that resembles a sea anemone, a small body attached to a rock with a ring of tentacles surrounding a central mouth. Here it feeds and matures until it starts to bud off and releases what are called medusa into the waters, each medusa is in fact a juvenile jellyfish, and off it goes to become an adult.
Back to our immortal one – when the adult has quite simply had enough – it’s stressed, it’s unwell, it’s starving, it has had a bad experience like nearly being eaten, it simply drops out of the water column and sticks to the rocky surface. Here it undergoes one of the wonders of nature. Its cells simply undergo a process known as transdifferentiation. Here the cells of our animal transform into different types of cells, so muscle cells can become sperm or eggs, or nerve cells can change into muscle cells, and the end result is the opposite of a caterpillar pupa becoming an adult butterfly.
The adult jellyfish transforms quite simply into a juvenile polyp again, it has drunk from the fountain of youth, the mature adult becomes a polyp, where it feeds, and develops to become another juvenile jellyfish. This juvenile grows and matures and then quite simply settles out again to form another polyp, immortality indeed, only one thing in the way here, – predators.