In my research for my recent articles on jellyfish, I discovered an article published in the New York Times on November 28, 2012. The article was titled “Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality?” The article had no bearing on my research regarding jellyfish, but it intrigued me so I began to read it. This article is my response to that article.
The article focuses on research being done in Japan regarding a tiny hydrozoan species, Turritopsis dohrnii known as the immortal jellyfish. Formerly this species was classified as Turritopsis nutricula. The article claims that this hydrozoan has the ability to turn itself back into a polyp from a medusa under the right adverse conditions. It does this through cellular differentiation. Cellular differentiation is the ability of a cell to change from one type of cell to another, such as a muscle cell to a nerve cell. The immortal jellyfish is not an easy study. It requires specialized conditions in the laboratory and regular daily feedings to survive.
It should be noted here that T. dohrnii is not an actual jellyfish. As noted above, it is a hydrozoan. The difference between a hydrozoan and a true jelly is fairly negligible. Essentially hydrozoans live most of their life in the polyp stage, while true jellies live most of their life in the medusa stage. Some hydrozoans do not even have a medusa stage.
The immortal jelly is immortal only in the sense that it can rejuvenate itself. It is still vulnerable to disease and predation. When the medusa form has spawned, it sinks to the seabed. Once it gets there, it can begin to reabsorb its tentacles and other body parts, eventually reforming the polyp stage. However, this has never been observed in the wild and only periodically in captivity. While it is possible that this behavior takes place in the wild, until it is observed, it is wise not to get too excited about the possibilities of this behavior. Further, even should it be observed, this is the equivalent of saying that a starfish cut into pieces is immortal. For anyone unaware, so long as part of the central disk is attached, sea stars can regenerate the rest of their body. Thus by chopping them up carefully, you can create multiple new individuals and can repeat the process indefinitely, effectively making the sea star immortal. The same logic applies here.
This is where the Times article went off the rails. They quote Daniel Martinez, a Ph.D. candidate whose thesis is on hydra. He claims “Genetically hydra are the same as human beings.” This claim has very little basis in fact. Hydra have 32 chromosomes, versus a humans 46. That may not seem like much of a difference but, given that there can be as many as 25,000 genes per chromosome, this could mean that there is a difference of 350,000 genes between humans and hydra. The article did not stop there when it came to the ridiculous. Japanese biologist Dr. Shin Kubota, the only scientist in the world devoted to the study of the immortal jelly, is quoted as follows: “I believe it will be easy to solve the mystery of immortality and apply ultimate life to human beings.” Essentially, some evolutionists believe that humanity can become immortal and Dr. Kubota believes this could be through the immortal jelly.
There is a brief moment of sanity buried in the final fourth of the article. Professor James Carlton points out the obvious. ““If by ‘immortal’ you mean passing on your genes, then yes, it’s immortal. But those are not the same cells anymore. The cells are immortal, but not necessarily the organism itself.” Essentially, despite the ability of the medusa to reform a polyp, when it becomes a polyp, it is a new, distinct organism, just as a medusa breaking off from the polyp is a new, distinct organism. However, the insanity quickly returns as Dr. Kubota is quoted as follows:“Nature is so beautiful. If human beings disappeared, how peaceful it would be.” So, essentially, eliminate those nasty humans so nature can thrive.
This quest for immortality is nothing new. Ponce de Leon explored Florida searching for the Fountain of Youth in the early 1500s and such a search predates de Leon by hundreds of years if not longer. However, every such search is bound to lead to failure. It is certainly is possible that Turritopsis dohrnii could lead to some medical breakthroughs but immortality is not one of them. “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:” Hebrews 9:27 says. 1 Corinthians 15:22 compounds the difficulty. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” In other words, Adams sin ended man’s immortality, but Christ’s death returns the opportunity for eternal life, but only in a spiritual sense. For man to attempt to gain immortality is a foolish, quixotic quest which will result in endless wasted hours and dollars.