Immortal Jellyfish

Immortality. But that’s not possible in real life, right? I mean, only in Tuck Everlasting for god’s sake! Well then, you’d be surprised to learn that Turritopsis nutricula comes pretty close. It is a hydrozoan whose medusa, or jellyfish, after becoming sexually mature, can revert to its original polyp stage. But how does such a process occur? When a Turritopsis is threatened, say due to injury or starvation, its umbrella reverts and the tentacles and mesoglea are broken down. It attaches itself to a surface in warm ocean waters and polyps start rising to form the new colony. The jellyfish converts its cells to their original form, allowing the cells to grow again, in a process called cell transdifferentiation. The cells can transform, so muscle cells can become nerve cells and nerve cells can become egg or sperm.

So far, the process has not been observed in nature yet because it happens so fast. But theoretically, this process could go on forever, making the jellyfish biologically immortal. However, Turritopsis are likely to die due to predation or disease in the plankton stage, without reverting to the polyp form. But hey, why dwell on that part? I think it’s pretty cool that Leonard wasn’t lying on Big Bang Theory when he mentioned “immortal jellyfish!”


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