Spanish scientists have cracked the genetic code of the immortal jellyfish – a creature capable of returning to youth multiple times – in hopes of uncovering the secret of their unique longevity and finding new clues to human aging.
Biochemistry and molecular biology are planned for this revolutionary new study, paving the way for increasingly targeted research in the fight against cellular aging. In the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, where this study was published on Monday, August 29, Maria Pascual-Torner, Victor Quesada and their colleagues from the University of Oviedo explain how they managed to map the genetic sequence of the Turritopsis dohrnii, the only known species of jellyfish capable of fully returning to a sexually immature stage after reaching sexual maturity. This study was funded by the European Union and the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation.
The study aimed to understand why this jellyfish remains so mysterious by comparing its genetic sequencing to that of Turritopsis rubraanother jellyfish, a close genetic cousin that lacks the ability to rejuvenate after sexual reproduction.
Although many types of jellyfish have some ability to reverse aging and return to a larval stage, most lose this ability once they reach sexual maturity, the researchers report. But this is not the case Turritopsis dohrnii.
Its genes are associated with DNA replication and repair, telomere maintenance, stem cell population renewal, intercellular communication and reduction of the oxidative cellular environment. All these parameters influence the processes that, in humans, are associated with longevity and cellular aging.
More specifically, the researchers found that the tiny jellyfish studied, only a few millimeters long, has the ability to reverse the direction of its life cycle at an earlier asexual stage called a polyp. The great majority of living beings, after the stage of reproduction, advance in a characteristic process of cellular and tissue aging that culminates in the death of the organism. However, Turritopsis dohrnii has the ability to choose another path: reverse its life cycle and rejuvenate.
Among the researchers involved in this study, Maria Pascual-Torner, from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of the University of Oviedo points out that “Instead of having a single key to rejuvenation and immortality, the various mechanisms found in our study would act in synergy, thus orchestrating the process that ensures the successful rejuvenation of the immortal jellyfish.“