Could jellyfish DNA hold the secret to ever-lasting life?
The Turritopsis Dohrnii species is ‘biologically immortal’
words Megan Wallace
From the jellyfish haircut currently trending on TikTok thanks to Nicole Kidman’s latest magazine cover, to the Iris Van Herpen-esque extraterrestrial medusa in Jordan Peele’s Nope, jellyfish seem to be everywhere this month. And they’ve landed in the news cycle once more (clearly they’ve got a great Head of PR) thanks to a new scientific study that has seen researchers try to unlock the secret to eternal life. Yes, seriously.
Landing in the peer-reviewed journal PNAS on Monday (29 August), a study by researchers at the University of Oveidas in Spain honed in on a specific kind of jellyfish, the Turritopsis dohrnii, which is the only “biologically immortal” species known to science. However, it’s not giving Edward Cullen-style eternal youth — it’s actually a bit more Benjamin Button than Twilight.
All Turritopsis dohrnii are identical clones and, like other forms of jellyfish, begins life as a baby polyp that then grows into a medusa. The unique bit is that when this organism faces injury, illness or old age, points where other forms of life normally die, the Turritopsis dohrnii restarts rather than ends its life cycle. Specifically, they melt their bodies to become cysts and then attach to the seafloor in order to become a polyp once more and create more new clones. This particular type of jellyfish is in fact “the only species able to rejuvenate repeatedly after sexual reproduction”.
Compelled by the jellyfish’s unique approach to life and death, the University of Oveidas researchers decided to take a closer look at its genetic makeup. In order to do so, the scientists compared the DNA of the Turritopsis dohrnii with a closely related jellyfish variety which is not strictly biologically immortal, the Turritopsis rubra. They also compared almost 1,000 genes relating to ageing and DNA repair between the two Turritopsis and other cnidarians (a group including corals, hydras, jellyfish and sea anemones, to name a few).
The results of the study suggest that T. dohrnii may have more efficient replicative mechanisms and repair systems than other cnidarians due to having more copies of specific genes linked to DNA repair and replication. They also found that the jellyfish silences developmental genes and fire up other genes in order to allow it to regress back to its originator state.
We're not 100% sure what all that means...but it still sounds pretty cool. Go science!
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