Researchers in Spain have cracked the genetic code of the ageless jellyfish, as it can regenerate itself repeatedly – a marvel that experts hope could lead to advancements in treating human ageing.
But it is only limited to a jellyfish, which measures less than a quarter of an inch, to provide immediate breakthroughs for human immortality, according to Carlos López-Otn, one of the study’s co-authors, who published the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
However, “with this knowledge, we expect to find better answers to the many diseases related to ageing that overwhelm us today,” said López-Otn.
He and a team of researchers from the Spain’s University of Oviedo mapped the genomes of the immortal jellyfish named Turritopsis dohrnii and a similar jellyfish called Turritopsis rubra, which cannot rejuvenate itself.
According to the Natural History Museum in London, the immortal jellyfish, smaller than the nail on your little finger, can release sperm and eggs when it reaches maturity, known as the medusa stage.
However, if it is harmed, damaged, or stressed – for example, by malnutrition or changing temperatures – the medusa version of the jellyfish shrinks, “reabsorbing its tentacles and losing the ability to swim,” and reverts to a polyp, a previous life stage. The polyp cells develop into new jellyfish through a process known as transdifferentiation.
Other jellyfish can regenerate themselves, but only after sexual reproduction, unlike the eternal jellyfish.
The University of Oviedo researchers discovered specific “genomic keys” that allow the immortal jellyfish to regenerate itself even after it has reproduced by comparing the genetic makeup of the two jellyfish.
The genes found in the immortal jellyfish included those involved in DNA replication and repair, as well as stem cell renewal, according to the researchers.
The immortal jellyfish’s ability to regenerate is aided by the fact that its cells can evolve into any form of cell required, according to Monty Graham, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography and a jellyfish expert.
Graham believes that much more research is needed to uncover how the immortal jellyfish’s biological abilities could lead to breakthroughs in humans.
He stated that there is no quick application for the time being. “We can’t think of it as, hey, we’re going to harvest these jellyfish and convert them into skin cream,” Graham told Reuters.
“It’s one of those papers that I think will open up a door to a new area of study worth pursuing,” he added.