(ORDO NEWS) — It was believed that lobsters have long been studied by science. However, scientists have found that these decapods are theoretically immortal.
They do not age, do not lose their reproductive function and appetite, and are always active and full of energy.
It is the finiteness of life that makes it so beautiful.
- Since time immemorial, people have dreamed of immortality and sought the elixirs of eternal life.
- Lobsters and one species of jellyfish give us some idea of what immortality in nature might look like.
- In the process of evolution, we hardly reveal the secrets of longevity, and philosophy teaches us that it is the finiteness of life that makes it especially valuable.
One of the oldest surviving literary works in the world is the Epic of Gilgamesh.
It’s easy to get lost in this ancient tale – with all its mythical talking animals and heroic battles – but at its center is one of the most fundamental and universal ideas of all time, namely the quest for immortality.
The essence of the Epic is that Gilgamesh wanted to live forever.
From the poetry of ancient Mesopotamia to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, from golden apples to the Philosopher’s Stone, people have always and everywhere sought to unlock the secret of eternal life.
And perhaps the secret of immortality is not as elusive as we think.
Instead of looking for sacred relics or turning to science fiction, we should probably turn our attention to the animal kingdom to understand how nature answers this ancient question.
If you ever find yourself in a Red Lobster restaurant or are about to eat a lobster roll, stop for a moment and consider that you may be eating the key to eternal youth. To understand why, we need to understand how the aging process works.
As you age, you can’t help but notice that your body begins to creak and crunch more often, that even simple tasks require more and more effort, and that jokes about a hangover no longer make you laugh out loud.
Our bodies are designed in such a way that over time they begin to weaken and wear out. And this wear, that is, physiological aging, occurs at the cellular level. At some point, the cells of our body stop dividing, but they remain in our body, alive and active.
We need cells to divide because that’s how we grow and recover from injury and disease. For example, if you’ve been circumcised or worked on weight machines at the gym, it’s the cell division mechanism that helps you replace damaged tissue and recover from damage.
But over time, the cells stop dividing. They continue to function, doing the best they can for us, but – like humans in general – cells start to work more slowly and make more mistakes. As a result, we age.
But this is not the case with lobsters. Under the normal process of cell division, the “shields” at the ends of our chromosomes, called telomeres, get a little smaller, and after each subsequent cell division, they protect our DNA a little less.
When this process reaches a certain point, the cell enters the phase of physiological aging and stops dividing. It does not self-destruct, but simply continues to exist as it is.
Meanwhile, lobsters or, as they are also called, lobsters have a special enzyme called telomerase, which helps cell telomeres stay as long and flawless as they have always been. Lobster cells never enter the phase of physiological aging.
However, evolution gives with one hand and takes with the other. The skeleton of crustaceans is outside, and having a constantly growing body means that sooner or later they will inevitably outgrow their exoskeleton.
Because of this, they have to constantly shed their old shells and grow new ones. This, of course, requires a huge expenditure of energy, and once a lobster reaches a certain size, it simply cannot consume enough calories to grow a new mansion-sized shell.
That is, lobsters die not from old age, but from exhaustion (as well as from disease and at the hands of New England fishermen).
Jellyfish that turns the life cycle back
Although lobsters have not yet managed to achieve immortality, we still have a lot to learn from them.
But there is another animal that has made more notable progress than lobsters, and it has become the only creature that scientists have recognized as truly immortal.
These are jellyfish of the species Turritopsis dohrnii. These are tiny creatures – the largest such jellyfish reaches the size of a fly – but they brilliantly mastered one interesting trick: they are able to reverse their life cycle.
It all starts with a fertilized egg, which attaches to some surface and begins to grow. At this stage, they stretch out and begin to look like any other jellyfish. They eventually separate from this surface and become mature, fully developed jellyfish ready to breed. Like, everything is as usual.
But jellyfish Turritopsis dohrnii can do something amazing. When the environment becomes unfavorable – for example, there is a shortage of food or the environment becomes too aggressive – these jellyfish can return to one of the first stages of their life cycle.
It is as if the frog has become a tadpole again, or the fly has become a larva again. As if a grown man suddenly said, “I’ve had enough of this job, mortgage, stress and worries. I’m going to turn into a baby again.” Or as if the old man decided to become a fetus again – to live another life.
Of course, this tiny jellyfish the size of a pinky nail is not quite immortal in the sense that we put into this concept.
It can be crushed and eaten like any other living being. But its ability to return to earlier stages of its life cycle allows it to better adapt to certain changes in the environment, which means that, theoretically, it can live forever.
Why do we want to live forever?
Although the search for the secrets of eternal life is as old as mankind itself, examples of immortality are extremely difficult to find even in such a diverse animal kingdom.
In truth, evolution doesn’t care how many years we live, as long as we can live long enough to pass on our genes to our offspring and provide our children with basic care. Everything else doesn’t really matter, and evolution doesn’t really care about unnecessary longevity.
However, a much more philosophical question is why do we want to live forever? We all have a craving for life, and we all – at least at some point in our lives – are afraid of dying.
We do not want to leave our loved ones, we want to complete the projects we have begun, and we all prefer the life we know, and not at all an unknown afterlife. But death has its purpose.
As the German philosopher Martin Heidegger argued, death gives meaning to life.
If the journey has an end, it will acquire value. It is worth saying that the game is fun to play only because it does not last forever, any play must be completed, and the word only makes sense on its last letter.
Philosophy and religion have taught us for centuries: memento mori, or “remember death.” It is finitude that makes life so beautiful. That’s why lobsters and tiny jellyfish seem so dull.
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