Eternal Life – It’s Possible! Ask the Medusa!

By Shlomo Maital  


   An article in the New York Times (Nov. 28/2012) * describes sea creatures, like one form of jellyfish, or Medusa, that have learned an amazing secret, one currently far beyond humans:  Eternal life.   Scientists studying these creatures could one day unlock the secret, so that we humans too could live forever.  But – would we want to? 

    Here is the crux of the article:

     A German marine-biology student named Gerhard Sommer went snorkeling in the turquoise water off the cliffs of Portofino each morning.   Among the hundreds of organisms he collected was a tiny, relatively obscure species known to biologists as Turritopsis dohrnii. Today it is more commonly known as the immortal jellyfish.

  Sommer kept his hydrozoans in petri dishes and observed their reproduction habits.  After several days he noticed that his Turritopsis dohrnii was behaving in a very peculiar manner, for which he could hypothesize no earthly explanation. Plainly speaking, it refused to die. It appeared to age in reverse, growing younger and younger until it reached its earliest stage of development, at which point it began its life cycle anew. in 1996 a group of scientists published a paper called “Reversing the Life Cycle.” The scientists described how the species — at any stage of its development — could transform itself back to a polyp, the organism’s earliest stage of life, “thus escaping death and achieving potential immortality.” This finding appeared to debunk the most fundamental law of the natural world — you are born, and then you die.

  Remember F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story about the baby born old who then grew younger, made into a movie in 2008 with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)?   Could it yet come true?  Some hydrozoans (highly primitive creatures, with no eyes, no head) are mainly stem cells that rejuvenate continually.   With stem cells, could we reach, say, 70 (my current age), and then, rejuvenate, reverse the aging process and become, say, 25 (the age my wife and I married)?

    The scientists working on this topic, including a Japanese expert named Shin Kubota, who works in Shirahama, a beach resort town four hours south of Kyoto, Japan, are dubious.  Kubota thinks human culture and emotions are not yet ready for immortality.   I agree.

    And it poses a problem for religion.  If we are asked to behave well in order to go to heaven, well, what if you never go to heaven?  And if you are told that believing in an Eternal Spirit will give us eternal life, what if you get eternal life anyway?  Food for thought. 

    So – would YOU like to live forever? Under what conditions? 



* Nathaniel Rich.  “Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality?”  New York Times Magazine, Nov. 28, 2012.