Updated: Apr 28, 2022
(Click above to listen to this article. Video by Dinorah Delfin )
We don’t have to look far for examples of biological immortality. Upon closer examination, it’s clear we’re inspired and influenced by nature, in which we take part and are not separate from.
The first spectacular specimen comes from the world of flora, The Rose Of Jericho, also known as the “resurrection plant.” This desert moss repeatedly survives long periods of desiccation, reanimating upon hydration. It lasts by producing a protective sugar called “trehalose”, which preserves cell membranes. Trehalose is common to cocoons, and in the human realm, cryopreservation of cells.¹ Some dietary sources of the disaccharide include sunflowers seeds and shiitake mushrooms.
Perhaps the ancient Egyptians sought to emulate the behavior of desert plants when developing the mummification process. Although inexactly because they did it after death instead of before. (The common ingredient in embalming fluid is the Trehalose in Acacia.) Plants in arid climates have developed advanced and fascinating methods for survival. They predate us by a long shot, and we have a lot to learn from them.
(Rose of Jericho — Just add water)
Another example from the plant kingdom is the Bristlecone Pine, a gnarly tree native to
high altitudes of North America. What’s its secret to living thousands of years? A potent
stash of stem cells that functions as an ongoing backup genome! The cells only divide
when they need to, a process regulated by stress response proteins.²
(The Bristlecone Pine — How to live for thousands of years)
Let’s translate this back to the human condition for a moment. For starters, stem cell treatments are becoming more common. Controlled stressors such as exercise, intermittent fasting, and sitting in the sauna can be tools for longevity. These activities are known to stimulate the FOXO (Forkhead box O, for the shape) protective genes, shared amongst the animal kingdom, from the 30mm sea creature, the Hydra, to the human.³ Some dietary sources connected to FOXO are Green tea (ECGC), Apples (Quercetin), and Turmeric (Curcumin).⁴
The Hydra and the Axolotl salamander are animals that have outFOXed us. Both of them can regenerate limbs by using a remarkable onboard healing process in which, upon trauma, cells rapidly begin to divide to create new structures. If this isn’t intelligence, I don’t know what is! Exactly how they achieve this is still up for speculation — clearly, though, a highly advanced immune system at work. More answers are available in quantum biology, with concepts like transdifferentiation, resonance, and transmutation.
(Regenerative Axolotl — Looking cheerful)
The following curious specimen comes from tropical seas, the internet biology sensation, “immortal jellyfish” or Turritopsis dohrnii. This creature reproduces asexually, is biologically immortal, and able to renew its life cycle.
Jellyfish have been around for 500-700 million years. At first glance, what may seem like a primitive body structure is the product of the fantastic evolutionary choice of simplicity to survive in their lane. That is, their bodies are nerve networks with no organs. Nutrients freely pass through their gelatinous membranes.⁵ In a way, a jellyfish is a floating brain.
I have no desire to exist as a gelatinous membrane, but with the advent of nanotechnology, our cells and systems can learn new tricks.
And this is a good moment to mention that I’m against animal testing beyond cultures or tissue samples. Given current developments and understanding, there’s no need for it.
(Immortal Jellyfish – The original guru)
Speaking of tricks brings me to the final example of biological immortality, although there are many more: The Tardigrade.
It should be no surprise that microorganisms like the Tardigrade are so advanced — they’ve been around 3.5 billion years on Earth. Like the Rose of Jericho, Tardigrade can survive desiccation and radiation and the vacuum of space, to name a few. It was discovered by humans interestingly enough in 1773 and dubbed Tardigrada, or “slow stepper” in Italian, for its ability to slow down its metabolism to a state of “cryptobiosis.”⁶
Tardigrades are advanced survivalists. In addition to producing the sugar as mentioned
above, Trehalose preserves itself by using several techniques in extreme conditions. These include: transforming or “vitrifying” their cytoplasm into the glass, producing large quantities of antioxidants, mechanizing proteins that protect their DNA from damage, and both sexually and asexually reproducing. In short, they’re at a relatively higher level in their evolution than us.
(Tardigrade aka “Water Bear” — may have already colonized the Moon)
There’s much for us to look forward to and look at in the present in amazement. Biology is an exciting field that continues to show us there’s more to be discovered; on Earth, cosmically, and beyond.
Life, as a voyage of discovery, is unending.
On that note, I’m going to have some green tea and sauté shiitakes mushrooms!
¹ Trehalose: an intriguing disaccharide with potential for medical application in
ophthalmology / Jacques Luyckx and Christophe Baudouin
² The animals and plants that can live forever / Colin Barry 2015
³ Long live FOXO: unraveling the role of FOXO proteins in aging and longevity / Rute
Martins, Gordon J. Lithgow, and Wolfgang Link 2015
⁴ FOXO / Dr. Rhonda Patrick / https://www.foundmyfitness.com/topics/
⁵ JELLYFISH AND COMB JELLIES Cnidaria and Ctenophora / K. Raskoff, Monterey
Peninsula College, Arctic Exploration 2002, NOAA / https://ocean.si.edu/ocean-
⁶ Facts About Tardigardes / Alina Bradford 2017 / https://www.livescience.com/57985-
A Question For IM Readers:
What other organisms from nature do you think can teach us about biological
Share your thoughts below!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah Ikerd lives in Somerville / Greater Boston, MA. She is an Olympic Weightlifting Coach, a longevitists, musician, artist, and activist. She is the owner of Studio Shangri-La.
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