Nearly Immortal Hydrozoan Colonizes Oceans

When small jellyfish-like hydrozoans, Turritopsis dohrnii, are faced with food scarcity or other challenges, they don't die. They get young again.


(Turritopsis dohrnii)

Normally the organisms reproduce like grown-ups with sperm and eggs. In case of emergency, though, a bedeviled bell sinks down and the blob of tissue sticks to a surface below. There Turritopsis’ cells seem to reverse their life stage. When the blob grows again, it becomes the stalklike polyp of its youth and matures into a free-floating bell all over again. “This is equivalent to a butterfly that goes back to a caterpillar,” Maria Pia Miglietta of Pennsylvania State University says.

That’s a fine trick for surviving the strains of being swallowed in a huge gulp of water for a ship’s ballast and being hauled around the world, Miglietta says. The creatures can restart their life cycles right in the bottom of the ballast tank. Ballast water has become the major route for moving alien species from one ocean to another, and that’s probably what’s happening to T. dohrnii

SF fans enjoy thinking about the idea that an intelligent, space-faring species might achieve immortality through regrowth. Time Lords from the Dr. Who series also have the ability to regenerate their bodies when their current body is mortally wounded. This process results in their body undergoing a transformation, gaining a new physical form.


(Time Lords regenerate in Dr. Who)

From Science News via daily galaxy; thanks to Moira for the tip.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 12/5/2008)

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