You have probably heard about the tale (or enjoyed the Brad Pitt flick) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, in which the protagonist, Benjamin, ages in reverse. The idea may seem unusual, but cases of reverse aging or not aging at all are not so uncommon in the animal kingdom.
If one defines aging as becoming more prone to death, then the Turritopsis Nutricula—a jellyfish discovered in the Mediterranean Sea—does not age. How? If an adult Turritopsis is emaciated, its cells undergo transdifferentiation so that they transform into the different cell types that the jellyfish needs, ultimately preventing death. Nerve cells can be changed into muscle cells, and vice versa. It is still possible for these jellyfish to die before sexual maturation, as their immortality does not set in until they are adults. The Turritopsis Nutricula is surprisingly one of a few specimens that defy our natural expectation of aging.
Although immortality is a human obsession, there seems to be only one scientist who has been culturing Turritopsis polyps frequently in his lab: a Japanese man named Shin Kubota. Kubota believes that Turritopsis could indeed be the key to human immortality, and tells The New York Times, “Once we determine how the jellyfish rejuvenates itself, we should achieve very great things. My opinion is that we will evolve and become immortal ourselves.” Other scientists, however, are not as optimistic as Kubota—hence why he is the only one intensively studying the jellyfish.
Though Kubota is enthusiastic about it, transdifferentiation may not be the only route to immortality. Our diets could be the key to living forever—just look at queen bees.
Yes, another ageless wonder is a queen bee. If a baby bee is fortunate enough to be deemed a queen, her lifespan increases exponentially. The lucky larva is treated to a royal jelly that contains physiologically active chemical ambrosia. Eventually, this diet allows the bee to grow into a queen rather than a worker.
Worker bees typically live a few weeks. Queen bees can live decades—and only die because once the queen can no longer lay eggs, worker bees that formerly waited on her swarm her and sting her to death.
In several decades, aging as we know it could become a thing of the past. For now, the best we can do is to prolong our lives by being healthy and living carefully—but immorality sure does sound like fun. By studying different organisms and learning about the way they age, humans as a species may not have to fear aging.