28 January 2009

Silent invasion of 'immortal' jellyfish

"We are looking at a worldwide silent invasion."Photo: BARCROFT

Turritopsis nutricula may be the world’s only “immortal” creature. Jellyfish usually die after propagating but Turritopsis reverts to a sexually immature stage after reaching adulthood and is capable of rejuvenating itself. Found in warm tropical waters Turritopsis is believed to be spreading across the world as ships’ ballast water is discharged in ports.

Turritopsis nutricula: the world's only 'immortal' creature
Lech Mintowt-Czyz, The Times 26 Jan 09;
Turritopsis nutricula may be the world’s only “immortal” creature.

Jellyfish usually die after propagating but Turritopsis reverts to a sexually immature stage after reaching adulthood and is capable of rejuvenating itself.

The 4-5mm diameter creature, technically known as a hydrozoan, is the only known animal that is capable of reverting to its juvenile polyp state.

Theoretically, this cycle can repeat indefinitely, rendering it potentially immortal.

Found in warm tropical waters Turritopsis is believed to be spreading across the world as ships’ ballast water is discharged in ports.

Though solitary, they are predatory creatures and mature asexually from a polyp stage.

The jellyfish and its reversal of the ageing process is now the focus of research by marine biologists and geneticists. It is thought to achieve the feat through the cell development process of transdifferentiation, in which cells transform from one type to another.

The switching of cell roles is usually seen only when parts of an organ regenerate. However, it appears to occur normally in the Turritopsis life cycle.


'Immortal' jellyfish swarming across the world
The Telegraph 27 Jan 09;
An 'immortal' jellyfish is swarming through the world's oceans, according to scientists.

The Turritopsis nutricula is able to revert back to a juvenile form once it mates after becoming sexually mature.

Marine biologists say the jellyfish numbers are rocketing because they need not die.

Dr Maria Miglietta of the Smithsonian Tropical Marine Institute said: "We are looking at a worldwide silent invasion."

The jellyfish are originally from the Caribbean but have spread all over the world.

Turritopsis nutricula is technically known as a hydrozoan and is the only known animal that is capable of reverting completely to its younger self.

It does this through the cell development process of transdifferentiation.

Scientists believe the cycle can repeat indefinitely, rendering it potentially immortal.

While most members of the jellyfish family usually die after propagating, the Turritopsis nutricula has developed the unique ability to return to a polyp state.

Having stumbled upon the font of eternal youth, this tiny creature which is just 5mm long is the focus of many intricate studies by marine biologists and geneticists to see exactly how it manages to literally reverse its aging process.


More links

Cheating Death: The Immortal Life Cycle of Turritopsis on DevBio

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