In their study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Maria Pascual Turner, Victor Quesada and colleagues at the University of Oviedo map the genetic sequence of Turritopsis dohrnii, the only known species of jellyfish able to come back again and again. In the larval stage after sexual reproduction.
Like other types of jellyfish, T. dohrnii goes through a two-part life cycle, living on the sea floor during the asexual stage, where its main role is to survive times of food scarcity. When conditions are right, jellyfish reproduce sexually.
Although many species of jellyfish have some ability to reverse aging and return to the larval stage, most lose this ability once they reach sexual maturity, the authors wrote. Not so for T. dohrnii.
“We’ve known that these species have been able to do some evolutionary tricks for perhaps 15-20 years,” said Monty Graham, a jellyfish expert and director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography, who was not involved in the research.
This trick earned the species its nickname “immortal jellyfish,” a term that Graham admits is somewhat hyperbolic.
The study aimed to understand what made jellyfish different by comparing the genetic sequence of T.
What they found is that T. dohrnii has differences in its genome that may make it better at copying and repairing DNA. They also seem to be better at preserving the ends of chromosomes called telomeres. In humans and other species, telomere length has been shown to shorten with age.
Graham said the research has no immediate commercial value.
“We can’t look at it because we’re going to harvest these jellyfish and turn them into a skin cream,” he said.
It is more about understanding the processes and protein functions that help jellyfish cheat death.
“It’s one of those papers that I believe will open the door to a new field of study worth pursuing.”