Hydractinia, a strange, tube-shaped animal that lives on the shells of crabs, is completely immune to aging. However, the exact reasons that these immortal sea creatures are immune to aging have always baffled scientists. Now, though, new research seems to have finally given us an answer. According to the new study, which is published in Cell Reports, Hydractinia can actually use aging to grow a completely new body.
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This development gives scientists a much better understanding of how these immortal creatures continue to live on, even when they probably should have died. According to Newsweek, Charles Rotimo, co-author of the paper and the director of the Intramural Research Program at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), says studies like these can open new doors to our understanding of how aging in the human body works.
Previously, scientists discovered that Hydractinia have special stem cells that it uses to regenerate tissue within its body. These stem cells are capable of changing and transforming into any type of cell found within the creature’s body. More specialized cells, like those found in muscle and heart tissue, can’t do this. This is what allows the immortal sea creatures to grow new body parts.
The researchers continued to dig deeper, discovering that one particular set of genes seems to be related to the immortality of this weird little creature. These genes allow the creature to take part in “senescence,” which essentially allows it to repair and regrow body parts. They found that when this set of genes was removed, the Hydractinia were unable to regrow body parts and regenerate new stem cells.
The hope is that better understanding how creatures like the Hydractinia, and even other creatures that utilize similar methods to regrow body parts and repair damage, will help us understand how our own cells age and perhaps help us find a way to slow down aging.