The Immortal jellyfish might find the cure of cancer
For many centuries, humans have been actively looking for a method to be immortal. They used magic, spells, or rare herbs, yet none of them succeeded. Immortal life is a mission impossible for most organisms, except there is one species of jellyfish which has accomplished it.
Turritopsis dohrnii, also known as lighthouse jellyfish, or immortal jellyfish, is the lucky creature that can live forever as long as it is not eaten by other animals. The magical power of lighthouse jellyfish was not found until the 1990s, decades after this species was discovered in the Mediterranean Sea in 1883.
The normal jellyfish life cycle begins with a planula developed from a fertilized egg, settled down on the seabed and grows to be a polyp. After days of development, the polyp turns into a medusa and have a shape of jellyfish that we usually see. The life cycle of jellyfish is not reversible, so jellyfish ages and die eventually.
Lighthouse jellyfish is so special because it can turn its life back to youth not by reversing the life cycle, but by starting it again when injured or under threat.
How to be immortal?
An individual of lighthouse jellyfish firstly turn into a shape of melted jelly and start departed when it does not ‘feel’ well. If you are not patient enough at this stage, you might think it is already dead just like other jellyfish species. However, the transformation begins here. The genetic key of lighthouse jellyfish allows them to turn their life cycle directly into the polyp phase. Muscle cells of this ‘dead’ jellyfish can become nerve cells, arms begin to grow, and the mouth begins to develop.
In the rebirth life cycle of lighthouse jellyfish, no fertilized egg is required. Instead, asexual reproduction is taken over from the polyp phase to medusae. The many reproduced jellyfish are genetically identical to the ‘dead’ individual, in another word, it repeats itself over and over again before it is eaten. Asexual reproduction allows lighthouse jellyfish to reproduce independently, but it also limits the genetic diversity of the survived individuals.
Can humanity be immortal as well?
Though scientists are able to observe the unbelievable transformation of lighthouse jellyfish life cycle, the ‘rebirth’ mechanism remains unknown. In addition, even if the technology is found, there will be a moral debate on this self-gene-repeat mechanism, which is very similar to human clone.
The biological mechanism of lighthouse jellyfish, if found, may not help us to become a baby again and repeat our life from the beginning. However, as jellyfish’s cells can return to their early life, human cells can achieve the anti-aging effect or fight cancer cells using the ‘magic’ of jellyfish. The story of lighthouse jellyfish has inspired Dr. Piraino, an Italian scientist, to discover possible cures of cancer, where cancer cells can be rejuvenated to their early-stage as healthy cells.
So, can humanity be immortal by fighting aging cells and cancer? The answer is unknown. Let’s hope Dr. Piraino can give us the answer before we all die.