For time immemorial, man has searched for the elixir to life everlasting – immortality. With the millions of species that have inhabited the Earth, it’s no surprise that this answer could possibly be found in the Animal Kingdom. Through reverse engineering, the method of dismantling and examining a system with the intent of recreating its processes, scientists hope to recreate the miracles of animal life in human subjects, particularly in the medical field.
The turritopsis dohrnii, also known as “The Immortal Jellyfish,” was first discovered in the late 19th Century in the depths of the Mediterranean Sea. However, it was not until the mid-1990’s that their incredible trait was fully understood. Only millimeters in size, these little warriors have the extraordinary ability to revert back into the polyp state – the state of infancy in the life cycle of a jellyfish – when facing an imminent threat to their life. When in danger, this incredible survival skill allows the turritopsis dohrnii to revert from the adult (medusa) state back to the polyp state by returning to the sea floor and releasing a new polyp colony with an identical DNA-set.
According to AMNH.org, “the cellular mechanism behind it—a rare process known as transdifferentiation—is of particular interest to scientists for its potential applications in medicine. By undergoing transdifferentiation, an adult cell, one that is specialized for a particular tissue, can become an entirely different type of specialized cell. It’s an efficient way of cell recycling and an important area of study in stem cell research that could help scientists replace cells that have been damaged by disease.”
Despite this miraculous skill, these creatures can still die. This ability does not develop until the jellyfish reaches sexual maturation, which means if it faces a terminal threat from predators, starvation, or injury during its polyp state, it can die.
If science is able to mimic this fascinating survival skill, it may in fact hold the key to immortality. Imagine when facing imminent death, having the ability to reverse the aging process? Or spawning a clone of yourself back in the infant state to perpetuate your gene pool and start anew? This is where science and theology clash. Some say this is playing God – possibly man’s new beginning or perhaps their downfall. You decide.