While the humans have been looking for the elixir of life throughout every period of history, it appears that there is one species of jellyfish that are actually immortal. Turritopsis nutricula, or sometimes – Turritopsis dohrnii, is able to transform its cells from mature state back to immaturity, in other words – back to youth. The medusa leads a regular cycle of life, but after maturing and mating, it reverts back to its initial state – a polyp colony. The process is referred to as“transdifferentiation”, and it basically makes the jellyfish unable to die.
If a mature Turritopsis is threatened — injured or starving, for example — it attaches itself to a surface in warm ocean waters and converts into a blob. From that state, its cells undergo transdifferentiation, in which the cells essentially transform into different types of cells. Muscle cells can become sperm or eggs, or nerve cells can change into muscle cells, “revealing a transformation potential unparalleled in the animal kingdom,” according to the original study of the species published in 1996.
But Turritopsis can — and do — die. Their regeneration only occurs after sexual maturation, therefore they can succumb to predators or disease in the polyp stage. But because the jellyfish are the only known animal with this “immortality,” scientists are studying them closely, with the hopes of applying what they learn to issues such as human aging and illness.
The bell-shaped immortal jellyfish measures up to a maximum of bout 4.5 millimeters (0.18 in) and is about the same in its length and width. Originating in the Caribbean, it has now spread worldwide, and the discovery of its unique ability has heated up many discussions among the scientists. Some claim that their mystery is soon to be solved and applied to humans, while others only expect it to improve the quality of life at our final stages. Either way, knowing that something out there goes back and forth from being young to old to young again, blows your mind!