Scientists in Spain have uncovered the genetic code of an “immortal jellyfish” – a creature that can repeatedly revert to adolescence – in hopes of unlocking the secret to their unique longevity and finding new clues to human aging.
In their study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Maria Pascual-Torner, Victor Quesada and their colleagues at the University of Oviedo mapped the genetic sequence of Turritopsis dohrnii, the only known species of jellyfish that can go back multiple times. to the larval stage after sexual reproduction.
Like other species of jellyfish, T. dohrnii goes through a two-part life cycle: during the asexual phase, it lives on the seafloor, where its main role is to survive periods of food shortage. Under the right conditions, jellyfish reproduce sexually.
The authors write that although many species of jellyfish have some ability to reverse aging and return to the larval stage, most of them lose this ability when they reach sexual maturity. Not so for T. dohrnii.
“We’ve known about this species that can do little evolutionary tricks for maybe 15 to 20 years,” said Monty Graham, a jellyfish expert and director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography who was not involved in the study.
This trick has earned the species the nickname “immortal jellyfish”, a term Graham admits is somewhat exaggerated.
The study aimed to understand what made this jellyfish different by comparing the genetic sequence of T. dohrnii with that of Turritopsis rubra, a close genetic relative that lacks the ability to rejuvenate after sexual reproduction.
They found that T. dohrnii has variations in its genome that can improve DNA copying and repair. They also appear to be better at supporting the ends of chromosomes, called telomeres. In humans and other species, telomere length has been shown to shorten with age.
Graham said the study has no immediate commercial value.
“We can’t watch this because, hey, we’re going to collect these jellyfish and turn them into skin cream,” he said.
It has more to do with understanding the processes and functionality of the proteins that help these jellyfish cheat death.
“This is one of those papers that I think will open the door to a new line of research worth pursuing.”
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