Friday we talked about the world’s oldest organisms. Today, I can do you one better.
Turritopsis nutricula is a hydrozoan, very closely related to a sea jelly. Jellies and hydrozoans have two distinct stages to their life cycles. The jellyfish we all know and love is the mature, sexual medusa stage. But that jelly spent the first part of its life as a tiny, asexual polyp animal stuck to a rock, like a miniature anemone. That polyp grew into a strobila, grew stacks, like a Japanese pagoda, and the levels of those stacks eventually popped off and became baby medusas. But that strobila will continue living, popping off new jellyfish, until something licks it off its rock. So while an adult jellyfish has many cloned brother/sisters, it is not a clone of its strobila; it is its strobila. It’s the free-swimming extension of its strobila. The jellyfish is living in many different bodies, with two different forms, all over the world’s oceans, at the same time.
blow your mind digress. Turritopsis nutricula isn’t content to just live in several different bodies at once. It is unique, in that it can regress from its mature medusa stage to its larval strobila stage all by itself, and grow up all over again. And it can repeat this trick indefinitely. This means Turritopsis nutricula isn’t just long-living.
It’s potentially immortal.
What would we have to do to become immortal? It’s a question occultists, science fiction writers, and spiritual leaders have been asking since we developed an awareness of our inevitable deaths. Most of us write immortality off as an impossibility, going against the will of nature. But it’s not. At least one animal does it.
Enter The Methuselah Foundation, or, for those who can’t spell, simply The M Foundation. Since the failure of the alchemists to procure an immortality serum, it’s the largest push to find the fountain of youth in human history. This collection of scientists and philanthropists claim to work “to enable humans to live longer, better, and wiser, by defeating age-related disease and suffering.” But age isn’t just the cause of disease; in their minds, age is a disease. Death is a disease, and one that can be cured. What is age or death but a degradation of our cell structures, the collapse of the whole system under the strain of radiation and free radicals?
They might be right. But there’s the ethics to consider. Most people do not want to die, and nobody wants to end up in the nursing home. Living long and prospering is a biological imperative. But with humans already living longer than their natural span (about 40 years, for wild humans) and world population at 7 billion, how much time should we really be allowed to take up? And what do we lose in the process? If Turritopsis is any indication, you can’t achieve immortality by staying the same age, like a vampire. You have to regress, turn the hourglass of your life over before one of the chambers empties. You have to become a child and do it all over again. Sounds like fun, the first time. Sounds like it would get really old, the second or third time.
So. Would you rather get old once, or live your life over from childhood eternally?