Do you look forward to getting older? If you're like most kids, you probably do. After all, the big kids get to do all the fun stuff, right? They get to ride the big rides and, eventually, drive their own cars.
At some point, though, we all reach a point where we don't necessarily look forward to getting older. As our bodies age, we can't always do the things we used to do or want to do. Over time, we realize that getting older comes with a price.
But what if you could live forever? If you could find the fountain of youth, would you dive into it? Do you think it would be cool to be immortal like a superhero? If so, you might want to learn the secrets of a tiny sea creature known as the immortal jellyfish.
The immortal jellyfish, known by scientists as Turritopsis dohrnii, is a species of jellyfish native to the Mediterranean Sea. It has also been found in the waters surrounding Japan, as well as an increasing number of places around the world.
Shaped like a bell and only about as wide as the fingernail on your pinky finger, the immortal jellyfish is barely visible. Unless you were surrounded by them in the sea, you'd hardly even notice they were there. What they lack in stature, though, they make up for with an incredible ability that amazes scientists.
As its nickname suggests, the immortal jellyfish can boast about the fact that it has developed over time into a creature that scientists consider biologically immortal. Immortality in the case of the immortal jellyfish, however, doesn't necessarily work the way you think it might.
Instead of continuing to age for hundreds and thousands of years, the immortal jellyfish instead reaches maturity and then at some point, often in response to an injury or environmental threat, reverts back to its infant state as a polyp.
At that point, it can grow to full maturity again. Rather than continuing to age, it can revert back to a polyp and grow yet again. Theoretically, this cycle can repeat over and over again without end, rendering this unique jellyfish biologically immortal.
The immortal jellyfish accomplishes this amazing feat through a process known as transdifferentiation. During this process, the immortal jellyfish is able to transform its body cells from mature cells of one type to immature cells of a completely different type.
Scientists are currently studying the immortal jellyfish and the process of transdifferentiation. They hope to be able to harness the power of this process to pioneer scientific advances in medicine. For example, wouldn't it be incredible if the process could be used to regenerate new heart cells in a patient after a heart attack?
Before you start worrying that the sea will soon be overtaken by immortal jellyfish, you should realize that being biologically immortal doesn't mean an immortal jellyfish will actually live forever. While that possibility technically exists, most immortal jellyfish do die as a result of being eaten by predators or succumbing to disease or other ailments.