Do lobsters hold the keys to immortality?

Lobsters were not always considered a delicacy, in the past they were used as fertiliser and prison food.

It is inevitable that at some point you will die. We all will. The price we have to pay for being alive is death. It’s a certainty, like taxes. At some point our organs will stop working efficiently and we will go back to how we were before we were born.

However, the humble lobster does not have this problem.

Apart from being delicious, lobsters get old, but they ‘don’t age’. They do not weaken or slow down with the passing of years, and older lobsters are more fertile than younger ones. This characteristic is probably down to telomerase, an enzyme that repairs DNA. Because of this, lobsters can moult into bigger and bigger shells.

The biggest ever lobster captured weighed 20 kg, but in theory there could be much much bigger ones out there. Of course, lobsters can still die of other causes, such as disease or, well, being eaten. Yum.

The lack of symptoms of ageing, called negligible senescence, is not unique to lobsters. For example the Ocean Quahog clam can live up to 400 years.

Immortal Jellyfish

There is a species of jellyfish, called Turritopsis nutricula, that is considered immortal. The mature cells can instantly turn back into the polyp stage, thus giving itself an ‘extra life’. It uses a process called transdifferentiation, by which it can transform a cell into a completely new one. As far as we know, it is the only organism in nature that has this ability. However, they are still jellyfish, and they are still quite tiny (about 4.5 millimetres wide) and, like the lobsters, they are much more likely to die of other causes than to live forever.

Can we apply this knowledge to humans?

Surprisingly, there is very little research on the immortal jellyfish. According to this New York Times article, there is only one person in the world working full-time on Turritopsis nutricula specimens.

Since humans and jellyfish are quite genetically similar, there is a possibility that we could apply this process to humans. However, until there is more research on the topic, all we can do is dream of living forever.

-Francesco

References:

“Emerging area of aging research: long-lived animals with “negligible senescence””. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1019 (1): 518–520

Turritopsis Nutricola – Encyclopedia of Life

Boy catches 5kg Lobster – BBC News

Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality?

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