02 January 2013

The New York Times: “Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality?”

Sommer was baffled by this development but didn’t immediately grasp its significance. (It was nearly a decade before the word “immortal” was first used to describe the species.) But several biologists in Genoa, fascinated by Sommer’s finding, continued to study the species, and in 1996 they published a paper called “Reversing the Life Cycle”. The scientists described how the species — at any stage of its development — could transform itself back to a polyp, the organism’s earliest stage of life, thus escaping death and achieving potential immortality. This finding appeared to debunk the most fundamental law of the natural world — you are born, and then you die.

Many marine biologists are reluctant to make such grand claims about Turritopsis’ promise for human medicine. That’s a question for journalists, Boero said (to a journalist) in 2009. I prefer to focus on a slightly more rational form of science.

Kubota, however, has no such compunction. Turritopsis application for human beings is the most wonderful dream of mankind, he told me the first time I called him. Once we determine how the jellyfish rejuvenates itself, we should achieve very great things. My opinion is that we will evolve and become immortal ourselves.

Nathaniel Rich

This article has it all: a lonely scientist, science-fiction fan and karaoke enthusiast, struggling for funding for his research, humanity’s ultimate dream: eternal life. It’s a fascinating read, at the same underlining the problems with potential immortality, ethical and environmental issues. The biggest problem however is that, even if researchers manage to replicate this rejuvenation process in human beings, it’s unlikely to make us immortal – or let me put is this way, it depends what we understand under immortal: this could make our bodies immortal, but it remains to be seen if the brain with all its memories and our sense of self can be preserved while the body resets itself to adolescence or childhood.

I’m positive this will lead to many discoveries about cancer, diseases and aging. But immortality? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Hydrozoans, he suggests, may have made a devil’s bargain. In exchange for simplicity — no head or tail, no vision, eating out of its own anus — they gained immortality.

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