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The “immortal jellyfish” lives up to its name.
Scientifically known as Turritopsis dohrnii, the marine creature is the only species capable of rejuvenating itself after sexual maturity.
Once the jellyfish is damaged or stressed, it can turn itself into a small blob that settles on the sea floor. The blob then becomes a new branching, plant-like polyp which later forms into a full-fledged jellyfish.
This immortality has long stupefied scientists. But recently, they were able to figure out how the jellyfish can manage such a feat after studying its genes, Smithsonian Magazine reported.
In their study, researchers compared the genetic sequence of T. dohrnii to T. rubra, a close cousin that doesn’t share the former’s rejuvenation abilities.
They found that the immortal species had double the number of genes that repaired and protected DNA, allowing it to produce more restorative proteins. T. dohrnii also had differences in other genes, including mutations that defend the end of the chromosomes called telomeres.
Unlike the jellyfish, human telomeres shorten with age, the team noted.
They added that the study could also provide clues for human aging by finding “better answers to the many diseases associated with aging that overwhelm us today.” This could lead to new regenerative medicines and treatments.
Still, the authors acknowledged that further research is needed to understand the jellyfish’s immortality, such as whether the newly-formed medusae are the same individuals they were before reverting to their polyp stage.