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The Immortal Jellyfish: Facts & Photos

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Turritopsis dohrnii - immortal jellyfish

Turritopsis dohrnii - immortal jellyfish

Immortal. It's a word that's tossed around a lot, and at some point almost everyone has thought about what it would mean to live forever. Perhaps immortality is meant for simpler beings, as we might over-complicate the process of "just being us forever."

In human terms, sometimes immortality would appear almost nightmarish in a way. But less complicated beings live each moment in the now anyway, and they don't have the drama that we do, or the baggage.

They float along with the tide, following the flow of life infinitely. They live for the sun shining down on them, the flow of the waters around them, the tide pushing them along indefinitely through open infinite space.

There are beings on this Earth that do live forever, and one of those beings is the amazing immortal jellyfish (aka Turritopsis dohrnii.) Every day they live is another dance with infinity, the infinite spirit of life, and the wonderful chance of infinitude that so many wish for every day.

So if you could live forever on Earth, or at least more infinitely than we get to, what would that be like? To answer that, we need to learn more about this immortal jellyfish. How do they function, what is their secret, and how do they spend their time in infinity?

Turritopsis dohrnii

Turritopsis dohrnii

Where Immortal Jellyfish Are Found

"I am infinite!" Turritopsis dohrnii

"I am infinite!" Turritopsis dohrnii

The Basics

Taxonomic RankImmortal Jellyfish

Kingdom

Animalia

Phylum

Cnidaria

Class

Hydrozoa

Order

Anthoathecata

Family

Oceaniidae

Genus

Turritopsis

Species

T. dohrnii

Binomial Name

Turritopsis dohrnii

Just like any other type of jellyfish floating in Earth's enormous oceans, the immortal jellyfishes (Turritopsis dohrnii) live interesting and beautiful lives.

Scientists believe the immortal jellyfishes originated in the Pacific Ocean. But over time they've spread through trans-Arctic migrations as well as from the ballast waters of large ships. They now populate all the world's oceans (in the temperate and tropical regions.)

And just like other types of jellyfish, they go through various stages of development before reaching their mature stage.

But unlike other types, they have the ability to revert back to earlier stages of development and start over again.

The basic life cycle of an average jellyfish.

The basic life cycle of an average jellyfish.

Basic Jellyfish Stages:

  • Eggs are produced in the female and released into the ocean waters
  • Males fertilize the eggs in the water with their sperm
  • Fertilized eggs turn into planula larva which are free-swimming, flattened, ciliated, and symmetrical
  • Planula larvae settle to the ocean floor and develop into polyp colonies, also known as hydroids
  • Hydroids bud new tiny jellyfishes, about 1 mm in size and sporting 8 tentacles
  • The tiny jellyfishes feed on plankton and begin to grow
  • They become sexually mature (called a medusa) after a few weeks, where they are around 4.5 mm and sport up to 90 tentacles
Turritopsis dohrnii

Turritopsis dohrnii

What Makes This Type of Jellyfish Immortal?

Immortal jellyfishes (Turritopsis dohrnii) have the amazing ability to revert back to the polyp stage anywhere in their medusa stages of development.

Immortal jellyfishes (Turritopsis dohrnii) have the amazing ability to revert back to the polyp stage anywhere in their medusa stages of development.

Video: Immortal Jellyfish

While they reproduce and mature like many other common jellyfish types, the immortal jellyfishes (Turritopsis dohrnii) have the amazing ability to revert back to the polyp stage anywhere in their medusa stages of development.

The process, called cellular transdifferentiation, allows one type of cell to transform into another type of cell. When the immortal jellyfish reaches the hydroid, immature, maturing, or mature medusa stages, it can revert all the way back to the polyp stage at any point and start all over again. This happens either because of trauma or because it's aging and needs to renew itself again.

When reverting back to the polyp stage, first their bell and tentacles begin to deteriorate. Then they develop a protective chitin layer called a persarc and begin to break apart into separate polyps joined by stolons.

Stolons are basically connections between one polyp and another. Each of these polyps does the same thing, eventually creating a network of polyps (hydroids) where they can again bud off and move through the stages of maturity.

This ability makes immortal jellyfishes biologically immortal, having the ability to live forever in the same body/bodies. However, they are not truly immortal since they can be killed and eaten by predators. That said, scientists have identifiedTurritopsis dohrnii as the only known species of animal with the ability to physically live forever via transdifferentiation.

When the immortal jellyfish reaches the hydroid, immature, maturing, or mature medusa stages, it can revert all the way back to the polyp stage at any point and start all over again.

When the immortal jellyfish reaches the hydroid, immature, maturing, or mature medusa stages, it can revert all the way back to the polyp stage at any point and start all over again.

Amazing Facts About the Immortal Jellyfish

Tropical varieties have about 30% less tentacles than those living in more temperate waters.

Tropical varieties have about 30% less tentacles than those living in more temperate waters.

  • They were discovered in the Mediterranean Sea in 1883 by Christian Sommer, a German marine biology student in his early 20s
  • Their ability to revert to earlier stages wasn't discovered until 1996. It was first published in a paper called "Reversing The Life Cycle"
  • They are thought to have originated from the Pacific Ocean
  • Their ability to revert to earlier stages of development is called cellular transdifferentiation
  • Transdifferentiation means that one specialized cell type can turn into a different type of specialized cell. For example, muscle cells can turn into sperm or eggs, nerve cells can turn into muscle cells, and so on (much like human stem cells)
  • Though immortal jellyfishes found in various seas and oceans are genetically identical, they've adapted to their particular environments. Tropical varieties have about 30% less tentacles than those living in more temperate waters
  • Turritopsis dohrnii are described by scientists as "great hitchhikers," often hitching a lift in the ballast waters of large ships and clinging to the bottoms of ships while still in the polyp stage

There’s a shocking amount of genetic similarity between jellyfish and human beings.

— Kevin J. Peterson, molecular paleobiologist

The immortal jellyfishes are very tiny. Fully grown, they're about the size of a pinkie fingernail.

The immortal jellyfishes are very tiny. Fully grown, they're about the size of a pinkie fingernail.

  • For a long time the nutricula and rubra varieties of jellyfish were mistakenly referred to as the immortal jellyfish. However, transdifferentiation of nutricula or rubra was never observed
  • Turritopsis dohrnii are notoriously difficult to culture in a lab environment. Because of this, very few scientists have successfully been able to study them in detail
  • The immortal jellyfishes are very tiny. Fully grown, they're about the size of a pinkie fingernail
  • Studying the immortal jellyfish may one day have implications for medicine, particularly in the fields of cancer research and longevity
Turritopsis dohrnii

Turritopsis dohrnii

Sources & Further Reading

1. Alvarado, A. S., & Yamanaka, S. (2014, March 27). Rethinking Differentiation: Stem Cells, Regeneration, and Plasticity. Retrieved January 9, 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0092867414002827.

2. Hagan, M. (n.d.). National Exotic Marine and Estuarine Species Information System. Retrieved January 9, 2020, from https://invasions.si.edu/nemesis/browseDB/SpeciesSummary.jsp?TSN=-502.

3. Immortal Jellyfish. (n.d.). Retrieved January 9, 2020, from https://immortal-jellyfish.com/.

4. Lisenkova, A. A., Grigorenko, A. P., Tyazhelova, T. V., Andreeva, T. V., Gusev, F. E., Manakhov, A. D., … Rogaev, E. I. (2017, February). Complete Mitochondrial Genome and Evolutionary Analysis of Turritopsis dohrnii, the "Immortal" Jellyfish With a Reversible Life-Cycle. Retrieved January 9, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27845203.

5. Matsumoto, Y. (2017, December 5). Transdifferentiation in Turritopsis dohrnii (Immortal Jellyfish): Model System for Regeneration, Cellular Plasticity and Aging. Retrieved January 9, 2020, from https://oaktrust.library.tamu.edu/handle/1969.1/173118.

6. McDonough, M. (2019, April 19). Can the "Immortal" Jellyfish Help Scientists Cure Brain Disease? Retrieved January 9, 2020, from https://qz.com/1591895/immortal-jellyfish-may-help-scientists-cure-brain-disease/.

7. Miglietta, M. P., & Lessios, H. A. (2009, April). A Silent Invasion. Retrieved January 9, 2020, from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10530-008-9296-0.

8. National Science Foundation - Jellyfish Turritopsis dohrnii. (2010, November 24). Retrieved January 9, 2020, from https://www.nsf.gov/news/mmg/mmg_disp.jsp?med_id=68788&from=.

9. Rich, N. (2012, November 28). Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality? Retrieved January 9, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/02/magazine/can-a-jellyfish-unlock-the-secret-of-immortality.html.

10. Than, K. (2018, October 2). "Immortal" Jellyfish Swarm World's Oceans. Retrieved January 9, 2020, from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2009/01/immortal-jellyfish-swarm-oceans-animals/.

11. The Immortal Jellyfish: American Museum of Natural History. (2015, May 4). Retrieved January 9, 2020, from https://www.amnh.org/explore/news-blogs/on-exhibit-posts/the-immortal-jellyfish.

12. Turritopsis dohrnii. (2020, January 6). Retrieved January 9, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turritopsis_dohrnii.

© 2015 Kate P

Comments

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on November 12, 2015:

Thanks Annart! These little creatures are truly amazing. I was surprised myself at the size of them and wonder if larger creatures could get away with doing this as well. Thanks for reading and for the nice comments! :)

Ann Carr from SW England on November 12, 2015:

Wow! This is quite something; I had no idea something existed which could transdifferentiate or live forever. All this fascinating information is well-presented and obviously extremely well researched. When you told us the size of it, I was stunned!

Great hub.

Ann

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on October 06, 2015:

ChitrangadaSharan, this particular tiny jellyfish is indeed biologically immortal. It's pretty amazing to think about, isn't it? Thanks so much for reading and commenting, I appreciate it! :)

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on October 06, 2015:

Lots of interesting information about Jellyfish. I was not aware that it is immortal. Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures and amazing details regarding Jellyfish.

Thank you!

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on October 05, 2015:

I have faith that we're just beginning to scratch the surface of what's possible in medicine.. here's hoping! Thank you.. :)

Chantelle Porter from Ann Arbor on October 05, 2015:

That would be something wouldn't it?

Kate P (author) from The North Woods, USA on October 05, 2015:

ChantellePorter, thanks so much for your comment! Neither did I, until I found the immortal jellyfish. And scientists believe there are more species like this as well. Can you imagine the implications for our own species if we can further understand how this works? Amazing! Thank you.. :)

Chantelle Porter from Ann Arbor on October 05, 2015:

I had absolutely no idea that anything could live forever. Fascinating article.

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