The Immortal Sea Jelly

By James Remington Orozco Newton
Introduction
Immortal sea jellies (or Turritopsis nutricula) are hydrozoans who¶s medusa, or sea jelly shape can return to its polyp stage after sexual maturity is reached. They are the only known metazoa capable of doing this. They do this through the cell development process of transdifferentiation (or the change of a cell or tissue from one differentiated state to another.) It is theorized that this process can repeat endlessly, causing it to be biologically immortal. Although it is vulnerable to death by either: predation in the planktonic stage, or disease, without ever making it to the polyp form.

Turritopsis nutricula are bell-shaped, with an utmost diameter of 45mm (-o.o39 in) and are as broad as tall. The fortifications of the bell are uniformly thin, with a little thickening at the crest. The stomach is bright red and holds a cruciform shape in the cross section. The young are only around 1mm in diameter and have eight tentacles evenly dispersed along the edge, while adults possess more than 80-90 tentacles.

Immortal sea jellies further have a bottom-living polyp form (or hydroid), which consist of stolons that run along the substrate, and erect extensions with feeding polyps that can produce medusa buds. In around a few days these buds will develop into tiny 1mm medusae that are liberated and swim free from the parent hydroid colony. Until a recent genetic study, it was thought of that Turritopsis rubra, a closely-related species and Turritopsis nutricula were the same species. It isn¶t known whether or not T. rubra medusae can return back to their polyp stage.

Range and Distribution
Immortal sea jellies are believed to have begun in the Caribbean but have dispersed all over the world, and have speciated into several populations that are difficult to distinguish morphologically. But the species distinctions have been recently verified by a study and comparison of mitochondrial ribosomal gene sequence.

Immortal sea jellies are found in tropical to temperate waters in all of the oceans of the world. T. nutricula are believed to be spreading across the world¶s oceans, due to ships discharging ballast water in ports. Since the sea

jellies are immortal, their numbers could possibly be dangerously skyrocketing. ³We are looking at a worldwide silent invasion.´ said Dr. Maria Miglietta, a scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Marine Institute.

Life Cycle
The eggs develop in the gonads of female medusae, located in the walls of the manubrium (or stomach). When the eggs are mature, they are then spawned and fertilized in the sea by sperm generated and released by gonads in the male medusae. As this is the case for the majority of hydromedusae, except a close species Turritopsis rubra seems to retain fertilized eggs until the planula stage.

The newly fertilized eggs then develop into planula larvae, which settle themselves onto the sea floor. Sometimes they even settle in the rich marine communities that thrive on floating docks. They soon develop into

polyp colonies or hydroids. These colonies then bud new sea jellies and release them at around 1mm in size. Soon the buds grow and feed in the plankton and finally become sexually mature after a few weeks. The duration depends exactly upon the ocean temperature. At about 20°C (or 68 °F) it will take 25 to 30 days and at 22°C (or 72°F) it takes around 18 to 22 days.

Biological Immortality
A lot of sea jellies have basically settled life span that varies from species to species and from hours to several months. But the medusa of T. nutricula is the only known form to have developed the ability to return to a polyp state, by which of a specific transformation process that requires the presence of certain cell types (or the tissue from the sea jelly¶s bell surface and the circulatory canal system). A series of careful lab experiments has confirmed that all stages of the medusae, from newly released to fully grown individuals, can revert back to polyps. The transformation is first characterized by the deterioration of the bell and tentacles, with subsequent growth of a perisarc sheet and stolons,

and then finally feeding polyps. These polyps then further multiply by developing additional stolons, branches and then polyps, to finally form colonial hydroids. This ability to turn back years of age in response to adverse conditions, is probably very unique in the animal kingdom, and renders it the ability to bypass death, causing T. nutricula to be biologically immortal. Several studies have shown that 100% of specimens can revert back to their polyp stage. Although the process has not yet been seen in nature, part of which is due to the prospect of being in the right place at the right time is unlikely. In the hindsight of this remarkable ability, the majority of Turritopsis medusae are likely to be the victim of the regular hazards of life as plankton, like being eaten by other organisms, or falling to disease.

Although I cannot directly predict what waits in the future; whether or not this is a true case of immortality, I sense great success in the world of science and great power being corrupted. There may even be an invasion from those of another world. The magnitude of this spectacle greatly exceeds ones imagination; a great new world might arise in 2012 with great things coming to every day life. All of humanity could probably become what is heard of in myths and tall tales. We must open our eyes to the greater future awaiting us. What happens is caused by what we want; we must take hold now and see the world as it is and will be.

Sources
³Turritopsis nutricula´ Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turritopsis_nutricula ³´Immortal´ Jellyfish Swarm World¶s Oceans´ National Geographic http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/01/090130-immortaljellyfish-swarm.html ³¶Immortal¶ jellyfish swarming across world oceans´ Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/4357829/Immortal-jellyfishswarming-across-the-world.html

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