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I never thought while reading or watching films about vampires that immortality was something we should desire.  Watching people you care about die would be unbearable.  And I would just grow tired even if I was eternally 25 years old.

Still, mankind has sought immortality since the dawn of recorded time. 4000 years ago, the immortal man, Utnapishtim, told Gilgamesh that the secret to immortality lay in a coral found on the ocean floor.  That may have been close to the source.

In 1988, Christian Sommer, a German marine-biology student, was in Rapallo, Italy doing research on hydrozoans. These small invertebrates resemble, depending on their stage in the life cycle, resemble either a jellyfish or a soft coral.

One tiny specimen he found was Turritopsis dohrnii. Placed in petri dishes, he observed that they refused to die. In fact, they appeared to age in reverse, growing younger and younger until it reached its earliest stage of development, at which point it began its life cycle anew.

This “Benjamin Button” of a creature could theoretically go through the process indefinitely, so that the jellyfish is biologically immortal.

After a decade of research, they nicknamed the species the immortal jellyfish. The species could at any stage of its development transform itself back to a polyp, the organism’s earliest stage of life.

The jellyfish was also found in the waters off Japan. In nature, most T. dohrnii do die by predation or disease in the medusa stage that we are familiar with when we think of a jellyfish.

It is the butterfly that turns back into a caterpillar; the chicken that transforms into an egg and is reborn as a chicken.

Can studying the immortal jellyfish tell us how to reverse our own aging process? If you could be immortal, would you choose to be?

Read more at nytimes.com/2012/12/02/magazine/can-a-jellyfish-unlock-the-secret-of-immortality.html

 

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