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Immortal jellyfish genes identified that may explain their long life

By comparing DNA from two similar jellyfish species, researchers have found the genes that could stop and reverse aging in immortal jellyfish.


29 Aug 2022

A jellyfish’s regeneration powers appear to be related to key genetic changes.

Photography by Roy Ensink

An immortal species of jellyfish has double copies of genes that protect and repair DNA. The finding could provide clues about human aging and age-related conditions.

Jellyfish begin life as drifting larvae. They eventually attach to the seafloor and develop into bud-like polyps. Bottom dwellers clone themselves, forming stacked sedentary colonies that sprout into free-swimming, umbrella-shaped jellyfish.

That stage is a dead end for most jellyfish, but the immortal jellyfish (Turritopsis dohrnii) can reverse the cycle. When times get tough, like in harsh environments or after injury, melt their bodies into amorphous cysts, reattach to the seafloor, and revert to polyps. They can restart the cycle indefinitely to skirt death from old age.

To discover how the immortal jellyfish prevents aging, Maria Pascual Turner at the University of Oviedo in Spain and colleagues sequenced its genome, its complete set of genetic instructions, and compared it to that of the related but deadly crimson jellyfish (Turritopsis rubra).

They found that the immortal jellyfish had twice as many copies of genes associated with DNA repair and protection. These duplicates could produce larger amounts of protective and restorative proteins. The jellyfish also had unique mutations that stunted cell division and prevented telomeres, the protective caps on chromosomes, from deteriorating.

Then, to specify how T. dohrnii returns to the polyp form, the scientists looked at which genes were active during this reverse metamorphosis. They found that the jellyfish silenced developmental genes to return cells to a primordial state and turned on other genes that allow nascent cells to respecialize once a new jellyfish sprouts. Together, says Pascual-Torner, these genetic alterations protect the animal from the elements. of time.

but Maria Pia Miglietta at Texas A&M University in Galveston notes that the crimson jellyfish can also rejuvenate, but not as commonly as T. dohrnii. Using them for comparison could reveal differences in the degree of immortality rather than the key to immortality itself, she says.

Still, Pascual-Torner says the genes they identified could be relevant to human aging. could inspire regenerative medicine o provide information on age-related diseases such as cancer and neurodegeneration. “The next step is to explore these genetic variants in mice or in humans,” she says.

Magazine Reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2118763119

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