Immortal Animals


Don’t Worry, Not These Immortals… If you haven’t seen this movie, btw, DON’T. It is god awful.

Scientists have theorized that there are animals which, if left to their own devices, could live forever.  These organisms are considered to be “biologically immortal.”  Seafood Lovers, there is a treat for you at the end of the post.

First, A Biology Lesson

The Hayflack Limit is the point where most cellular organisms are no longer able to reproduce at a cellular level.  There are many reasons that this happens, but at its core, the Hayflack Limit is prominent in multi-cellular organisms because it is the primary evolutionary defense against cancer.  By greatly slowing down, or even stopping altogether, an organism’s ability to reproduce at the cellular level, an organism greatly reduces the chances of a cell mutation occurring.

But what’s this?!?!  A select few organisms do not adhere to the otherwise universal application of the Hayflack Limit.  These uppity animals have decided that they like to live, and will gladly risk cancer if it means living forever!  These organisms never lose their ability to reproduce at a cellular level and are thus, hypothetically, capable of outliving us all without even wiggling an allele (too nerdy, or just enough?).  Scientists refer to this as “biological immortality.”  Some individual organisms are able to achieve biological immortality due to mutations or after a prolonged life.  A handful of species have developed immortality as as genetic trait.

The Following Organisms have Won the Lottery of Life:

1. Tardigrades (AKA Water Bears or Moss Piglets)

I have never seen something with a bigger misnomer of a name.  This is WAY worse than a 350 lb black man named “Tiny.”  Hideous does not even begin to describe these cuddly-named micro-organisms (.3-.5 millimeters in length).

These are pretty amazing little guys though, despite making you wish you were blind.  Tardigrades have been around seemingly forever – they have been found in fossils believed to be over 530 million years old!  Since 1778, over 500 species of Tardigrades have been discovered, with over 1,500 total species known at this time.  Some species are able to withstand temperatures ranging from Absolute Zero (-459 degrees Fahrenheit) to 304 degrees Fahrenheit.  They can also survive almost a decade without water, and 1,000 times more radiation than any other animal.  ONE THOUSAND TIMES!!! In sum, they make cockroaches look like teletubbies.

2. Bacteria… blah.  Who cares.  Just be aware, bacteria does not go away because of old age!

3.  Hydra

Hercules Fighting the Hydra

If you are like me, you got WAY too excited when you saw “Hydra.”  You did this because: A. You are a giant Nerd (Welcome to the tribe), and B. You thought that the ancient mythological creature might actually exist!!!! Sorry to build your hopes up only to crush them, but Homer was yanking our chains.

 

A Real Hydra

Hydra are also microscopic in nature.  They do look pretty bad-ass though.  If they were bigger, I would definitely be a little scared.  Unfortunately, Hydra are not as cool as their microscopic moss piglet buddies, and definitely not as cool as their mythological namesakes.

Hydra are water organisms that can be found in most ponds, lakes, and streams.  They are like a hybrid seahorse-sea anemone   Hydra are able to float along and attach/detach themselves from other organisms and then sway with the currents, much like seahorses.  In actual operation and appearance though, they are much more like sea anemone – they use their twelve tentacles to grab its sustenance as it floats by.  One cool trait possessed by Hydra, other than the fact that they look like awesome aliens, is that they are capable of Morphallaxis, which is the ability to regenerate tissue whenever injured or severed.  This is not unlike the ability of many reptiles, such as geckos, which are able to re-grow their tails after they have been lost.

4. Turritopsis Nutricula (The Immortal Jellyfish)

An Immortal Jellyfish in the Medusa Stage

For my money, this is one of the coolest animals I have ever seen.  It very well may have been the inspiration for some of the creatures seen in Avatar.  And you had better be prepared to see them in the water near you.  These jellies are believed to have originated in the Caribbean, but can now be found all over the world.  Scientists believe the spread can be attributed to jellyfish being sucked up into large ocean liners and then being discharged as part of their ballast water in ports halfway across the world.  Dr Maria Miglietta of the Smithsonian Tropical Marine Institute said: “We are looking at a worldwide silent invasion.”  Thank goodness they are typically only about 4.5 millimeters in diameter!

Most jellyfish have a very set life cycle and thus, life expectancy.  Generally, a jellyfish starts as a polyp, which looks a lot like the hydra pictured above; then grows to become a medusa jellyfish, which is the stage we all think of jellyfish being in; reproduces; and passes away (See right).  The one-of-a-kind Immortal Jellyfish turns its nose up at death though.  It is able to turn back in to back in to a polyp and start the entire process all over again! Its kind of creepy, but hey, more power to you I suppose.  The thing is gorgeous, so I can’t complain!  Unfortunately, like most jellyfish and plankton-sized sea-creatures, immortal jellyfish are highly succeptible to death by disease or predation.

5. Lobster

Yes, you read that right.  These rich, delicious, armored, alien looking delicacies are immortal.  This leads to the obvious question – if I eat a ton of lobster, will I become immortal??  Unfortunately, if you are anything like me, or most of the rest of the lobster-eating population, you like your butter with a side of lobster and a splash of lemon.  The combined cholesterol of the lobster and the butter would kill you long before this underwater tree-of-life could take effect.  Also, it doesn’t quite work that way.  I like where your head is at though!  If you still want to try, you get an A for effort and the satisfaction of knowing you are going out like a Sir.

If you really want to be one of the greatest people in culinary history, you could put your new-found knowledge of lobster longevity to good use, especially if you are young.  Here is what you do:

  • Invest in a good sized aquarium
  • Go to the local fish market and buy yourself a good-sized live lobster
  • Let your lobster live.  Take great care of it.  Feed it waygu beef even. (Do you see where I am going with this yet?)  Feed it choice scallops and whatever other lobster delicacies you can get your hands on.
  • Let him live some more.
  • WARNING: DO NOT GET TOO ATTACHED!!  At some point, you and twenty five of your closest friends are going to dine on this bad boy
  • The world record lobster is forty-four pounds… that is what you are gunning for.
  • Once you hit 65 or 70, depending on your health, rent a crane and pull that sucker out.  Hopefully you have a Guiness World Record representative present.
  • Eat your 80 pound lobster that is every bit as vibrant as the day you bought him.

You’re welcome.  If anyone plans on attempting the lobster trick, please let me know below so we can keep in touch.

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