An immortal species of jellyfish reveals the keys against aging

Specimen of 'Turritopsis dohrnii', the little immortal jellyfish. / CE

Science | biology

Researchers from the University of Oviedo discover the secrets of its longevity in the genome of 'Turritopsis dohrnii'

"These investigations are associated with diseases of aging such as cancer and neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases." This is how the scientist María Pascual-Torner explains the study of which she is the first author, together with Dido Carrero, in which the genome of 'Turritopsis dohrnii', known as the immortal jellyfish, is deciphered.

These two researchers – together with a team from the University of Oviedo and under the direction of Carlos López-Otín – have defined some of the genomic keys that contribute to the longevity of this animal. "Until now we only knew the genome of its mitochondria and not that of the nucleus, which is the one that provides information on practically everything you want to know about a cell," he says.

By analyzing the genes associated with aging, they discovered some of the keys to their longevity. “We realized that they repair DNA and that they are very efficient in its duplication”, explains Pascual-Torner. Also, their telomeres (the ends of chromosomes that tend to get shorter over time) "stay the same size."

And not only that. These animals "preserve the population of stem cells." To understand what this means at a regenerative level, it is necessary to know that "every time a stem cell fails, it has to be replaced and, generally, the store we have of them is depleted". However, these jellyfish maintain it, while managing to reduce oxidative aging and having intercellular communication. "The important thing is not that they rejuvenate a cell, but that it rejuvenates the whole cell."

five years of work

To discover these secrets, they compared this species with 'Turritopsis rubra' –known as its deadly sister–, with other species of hydromedusae "and even with humans", says Pascual-Torner. His results have just been published in the journal 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences'. They could have important applications. "We hope that these genetic variants can be candidates for new studies using mouse models and thus see what their effect could be," says the researcher. "We have many ideas, but we will always go step by step."

This project has five years of work behind it, which began by getting the jellyfish. "They are very small. They barely measure four millimeters. So getting them was a feat. We went to look for them in Italy. We had to search the place and dive with a flashlight to identify them », she explains. «Bringing them to Oviedo was also an adventure and we had to set up some aquariums here. The Aquarium of Gijón helped us to install the systems».

"This research does not pursue the search for strategies to achieve the dreams of human immortality that some announce, but to understand the keys and limits of the fascinating cellular plasticity that allows some organisms to be able to travel back in time", points out the professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Carlos López-Otín.

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