Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by anh . anh Wonders, “How can jellyfish live forever ? ” Thanks for WONDERing with us, anh !
Do you look forward to getting older? If you’re like most kids, you probably do. After all, the big kids get to do all the fun stuff, right? They get to ride the big rides and, eventually, drive their own cars. They get to go places with their friends and even earn their own money.
At some point, though, most people stop wanting to get older. As our bodies age, we can’t always do the things we used to do or want to do. Some people start to move slower, and many get sick more often. Over time, we realize that aging comes with a price.
But what if you could live forever? If you could find the fountain of youth, would you dive into it? Do you think it would be cool to live forever like Mr. Immortal? What would you do? Travel the world? Cure illnesses? Learn everything? We certainly hope you would use your immortality for good!
Does immortality sound good to you? Then you may want to learn the secrets of a tiny sea creature known as the immortal jellyfish.
The immortal jellyfish, also known as Turritopsis dohrnii, lives mostly in the Mediterranean Sea. It has also been found in the waters of Japan. In fact, we’ve started to spot immortal jellyfish in new places around the world. They arrive in new habitats after attaching themselves to traveling ships.
What do immortal jellyfish look like? Are you picturing the jellyfish from Spongebob Squarepants? You’re not far off! These animals are shaped like a bell and are mostly transparent with a red center. However, they‘re much smaller than you might imagine. They’re only about as wide as the fingernail on your pinky finger. Because it’s so small, the immortal jellyfish is barely visible. Unless you were surrounded by them, you’d hardly even notice they were there.
What they lack in size, though, they make up for in longevity. These jellyfish have an ability that amazes scientists. As its nickname suggests, the immortal jellyfish is biologically immortal. This ability was developed over thousands of years, and experts hope we can learn a lot from it.
However, the jellyfish’s immortality doesn’t work the way you might think. It doesn’t continue to age for hundreds of years. Instead, an immortal jellyfish reaches maturity and then starts over. If it becomes sick or injured, it can just revert back to its infant state. Imagine being a hundred years old and just snapping your fingers to start over as a baby!
How is this possible? The immortal jellyfish accomplishes this amazing feat through a process known as transdifferentiation. During this process, the immortal jellyfish first turns itself into a blob. This blob then becomes a polyp, which is the first stage of jellyfish life. Then, every cell in the jellyfish’s body changes. Older muscle cells might become new nerve cells. Old brain cells could turn into young reproductive cells. The jellyfish’s entire body basically ages backward and starts over. The jellyfish can repeat this process as many times as it wants.
Scientists are studying the immortal jellyfish. They hope to harness the power of transdifferentiation for advances in medicine. Wouldn‘t it be incredible if we could make new heart cells after a heart attack? How about new brain cells after a stroke? As you can see, this could drastically change human life.
Wait. If immortal jellyfish can live forever, won’t they eventually take over the seas? Have no fear! Being biologically immortal doesn’t mean these jellyfish will actually live forever. While that possibility exists, most immortal jellyfish die at some point because of predators. Others get sick and can’t recover.
Do you think scientists could one day learn the secrets of transdifferentiation? What other uses could it have in medicine? Do you have any cells you would like to transform?
Standards: NGSS.LS1.A, NGSS.LS1.B, NGSS.LS4.B, NGSS.LS4.C, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.W.1, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.9, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2