The Immortal Jellyfish

It’s the Pheonix of the ocean, and this little guy has gotten a lot of attention recently. Science Fiction and Fantasy writers could really have something neat on their hands with this one.

According to National Geographic, the jellyfish is

About as wide as a human pinky nail when fully grown, the immortal jellyfish (scientific name: Turritopsis dohrnii) was discovered in the Mediterranean Sea in 1883. But its unique ability was not discovered until the 1990s.

And what is this unique ability? This little guy is capable of turning back into its baby stage in case of emergency and appears to be immortal.

It all sounds like magic. How is it possible for this Jellyfish to revert completely and begin again? Turns out that there is a scientific term for this process:

Transdifferentiation: 1. The change of a cell or tissue from one differentiated state to another. 2. The differentiation of a tissue-specific stem cell into another type of cell as, for example, a bone marrow stem cell differentiating into a neuron. –

So what does this mean for humans? Many animals are studied for various reasons in order to develop cures for diseases or other ailments, so why not the immortal jellyfish? Could it lead to eternal life?

In the New York Times article,  “Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality?” we find that keeping them in captivity is difficult but Shin Kubota, at Kyoto University’s Seto Marine Biological Laboratory has found a way to keep a group of them, but he says that they are still organisms.

And their immortality is, to a certain degree, a question of semantics. “That word ‘immortal’ is distracting,” says James Carlton, the professor of marine sciences at Williams. “If by ‘immortal’ you mean passing on your genes, then yes, it’s immortal. But those are not the same cells anymore. The cells are immortal, but not necessarily the organism itself.–NYTimes

So the term we should really consider is regeneration. If we were like this jellyfish, our bodies would return to their youthful stage and then regenerate, but would this regeneration still be us? We’re talking about something on a cellular level. Immortality would be to live on and on as we are now, regeneration, well…

Have fun writing!