Mother Nature, once again, could provide man with the key to understanding and treating a multitude of diseases associated with premature aging. All thanks to the latest work by a team of researchers from the Departamento de Bioquímica y Biología Molecular of the Universidad de Oviedo led by Professor Carlos López-Otín. The team, according to what was published in the study entitled “Comparative genomics of mortal and immortal cnidarians unveil novel keys behind rejuvenation“, published in full on the pages of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)would complete the genetic mapping of Turritopsis dohrnii, also known as the immortal jellyfish. The incredible creature, probably the only one on the planet to have this ability, manages to avoid death by periodically reversing the direction of the life cycle.
It ages and then becomes young again: it is immortal
“This tiny jellyfish, only a few millimeters long, has the extraordinary ability to reverse the direction of its life cycle in an earlier asexual stage, called a polyp,” explained Dido Carrero, lead author of the research. The vast majority of living beings, after the reproductive phase, proceed along a characteristic cellular and tissue aging process that culminates in the death of the organism. However, Turritopsis dohrnii has the ability to reverse its life cycle and rejuvenate ”.
Discovered the secret of the little jellyfish
For the researchers, the secret of this little jellyfish lies in cell transdifferentiation, a process that assigns cells the task of detecting damaged, missing or no longer functional parts of the body so that they can regenerate them. The little creature does not decide when to renew its genetic makeup, but succeeds in what could be considered a biological miracle when extremely unfavorable environmental conditions arise (temperature or salinity of marine waters).
There Turritopsis dohrniipreviously classified as Turritopsis Nutriculais very similar to the mortal cousin Turritopsis rubrae. This allowed the researchers to make a genetic comparison, and identify genes that specialize in regeneration. “These genes are associated with DNA replication and repair, telomere maintenance, stem cell population renewal, intercellular communication and reduction of the oxidative cellular environment – explain the Spanish scientists -. All of them influence the processes that have been associated with longevity and healthy aging in humans. Furthermore, the in-depth study of changes in gene expression during the rejuvenation process in this immortal jellyfish revealed gene silencing signals mediated by the so-called ‘Polycomb’ pathway, and increased expression of genes related to the cellular pluripotency pathway. Both processes are necessary for the specialized cells to differentiate and be able to become any type of cell to form the new organism. These results suggest that these biochemical pathways are fundamental mediators of the cyclic rejuvenation of the immortal jellyfish ”.
The telomeres of the Turritopsis dohrnii they never get shorter
“Rather than having a single key to rejuvenation and immortality – added Maria Pascual-Torner, a colleague of Professor Carrero -, the various mechanisms found in our study would act synergistically as a whole, thus orchestrating the process for guarantee the success of the rejuvenation of the immortal jellyfish ”. To succeed, the immortal jellyfish can count on a double endowment of copies of genes associated with DNA repair and protection. It is these duplicates, but not only them, that produce the specialized proteins to protect and repair the body. The tiny sea creature also has unique mutations that have the job of slowing cell division and shortening telomeres, the structures found at the ends of chromosomes.
We are not looking for eternal life, but a cure for premature aging
The geneticists engaged in this study did not conduct the research in hopes of finding the ultimate solution to death. The goal was to learn more about the cellular plasticity of this creature and, if so, turn on a light of hope for all those affected by premature aging.
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