Is Immortality Possible? Head to coral reefs for the answer!

Q2: Is immortality possible?

If we were to debate this question, let us begin with refuting the possibility:

“NOT POSSIBLE!” As early as 2700 BC, a Sumerian king named Gilgamesh was on a quest to achieve immortality. His story was recorded centuries later on clay tablets by Sumerians and later Babylonians. In the story, he proclaims: “How can I bear this sorrow that gnaws at my belly, this fear of death that restlessly drives me onward?” From mythological texts such as Epic of Gilgamesh we are reminded aging and again that death is inevitable1. Gilgamesh was obsessed with immortality, but rather than life extension, leaving a legacy of deed or creativity has been the closest humans have come to achieving immortality. Truly, Gilgamesh is remembered and recounted today, as are so many individuals whose lives, decades, centuries and millennia ago for the quality of the life they lived, not how long they lived. Today, we have no examples among humans or higher organisms of immortality.

“POSSIBLE!” There are more simplistic organisms that do appear to live forever. The hydra and jellyfish seem to evade aging… forever2. The greek mythological character “Hydra” was believed to have many heads… and when one was cut off, another one grew in its place3. The secret to immortality in the Gilgamesh story was in a coral on the ocean floor. A coral… coral

In 1988, a student studying hydrozoans (organisms that form coral polyps and jellyfish-like medusa during different phases of their life cycle) isolated one species called Turritopsis dohrnii. IMG_2257He transferred these organisms to a petri dish.. where he noticed they just would not die! In fact, they grew younger and younger, then began growing again… and so on. A decade later, these were termed “immortal jellyfish” by a group of scientists. Although much remains to be learned about the mechanisms of its’ apparent immortality, it is time we used our thinking hats and technical know-how to tackle this one! Here are some accounts in New York Times and Wired on this topic2,4.

Next we will tackle oxidative stress, accelerated aging and longevity… with mythology and science.



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