A team of researchers from the University of Oviedo has deciphered the genome of the ‘immortal’ jellyfish, Turritopsis dohrnii, and has defined various keys that contribute to extending its longevity to the point of avoiding its death, an advance that could make it possible to find answers to diseases associated with aging in humans.
According to the director of the study and professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Carlos López-Otrín, this work “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”. Thus, he warns, the objective is to find better answers to the numerous diseases associated with aging thanks to research on a jellyfish of just a few millimeters in length that reverses the direction of its life cycle towards an earlier asexual stage called a polyp and rejuvenates while The vast majority of living beings, after the reproductive stage, advance in a characteristic process of cellular and tissue aging that culminates in death.
The sequencing of the genome of Turritopsis dohrnii, together with that of its deadly sister Turritopsis rubra, and the use of bioinformatics and comparative genomics tools have allowed researchers to identify genes that are amplified or have differential variants characteristic of the immortal jellyfish. These genes are associated with DNA replication and repair, telomere maintenance, renewal of the stem cell population, intercellular communication, and reduction of the oxidative cellular environment, and affect processes that in humans have been associated with longevity and healthy aging.
In addition, the study of changes in gene expression during jellyfish rejuvenation has revealed gene silencing signals mediated by the so-called “Polycomb” pathway and increased expression of genes related to the cell pluripotency pathway. Both processes are necessary for specialized cells to dedifferentiate and become capable of becoming any type of cell, thus forming the new organism. These results suggest that these 2 biochemical pathways are fundamental mediators of the cyclical rejuvenation of this jellyfish.
For the postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and first author of the article together with Dido Carrero, María Pascual-Torner, rather than having a single key to rejuvenation and immortality, the various mechanisms found “would act synergistically as a whole, thus orchestrating the process to ensure the success of the jellyfish’s rejuvenation”.
Researchers from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of the University of Oviedo, the University Institute of Oncology of the Principality of Asturias, the Health Research Institute of the Principality of Asturias and the Marine Observatory of Asturias.