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. One way it lasts is 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 keep learning from them.
A larger example from the plant kingdom is the Bristlecone Pine, a gnarly tree native to North America in high altitudes. What’s the secret to living thousands of years? A powerful stash of stem cells that functions as an ongoing back-up genome! The cells only divide when they need to, a process regulated by stress response proteins.²
Let’s translate this back to the human condition for a moment. For starters, stem cell treatments are becoming more common. And controlled stressors can be tools for longevity, such as: exercise, intermittent fasting, and sitting in the sauna — to name a few practical options. These types of activities are known to stimulate the FOXO (Forkhead box O, for the shape) protective genes, common amongst the animal kingdom, from the 30mm sea creature the Hydra to the human.³ Here are some dietary sources connected to FOXO: Green tea (ECGC), Apples (Quercetin) and Turmeric (Curcumin).⁴
The Hydra and the Axolotl salamander are animals that definitely have us outFOXed. Both of them are able to regenerate limbs by using a remarkable on board healing process in which, upon trauma, cells begin rapidly dividing to create new complete 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. Perhaps more answers lie in the emergent field of quantum biology, with concepts like transdifferentiation, resonance and transmutation.
The next curious specimen comes from tropical seas, the internet biology sensation: The “immortal jellyfish” or Turritopsis dohrnii. This creature reproduces asexually and is indeed biologically immortal, able to renew its life cycle.
Jellyfish have been around for 500-700 million years, the oldest of the [known] old in addition to microorganisms. What may seem like primitive body structure at first glance is the product of the amazing evolutionary choice of simplicity in order to survive in their lane. That is, their bodies are nerve networks with no need for organs. Nutrients freely pass through their gelatinous membranes.⁵ In a way, a jellyfish is a floating brain.
Personally I have no desire to exist as a gelatinous membrane, but with the advent of nanotechnology, it’s possible for our cells and systems to 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.
Speaking of tricks, that brings me to the final example of biological immortality, although there are actually 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 then also 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 definitely advanced survivalists. In addition to producing the aforementioned sugar Trehalose in preserving themselves, they put several other techniques to use in extreme conditions. These include: transforming or “vitrifying” their cytoplasm into 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 we are.
There’s much for us to look forward to though, 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 go have some green tea and sauté up some shiitakes.
¹ Trehalose: an intriguing disaccharide with potential for medical application in ophthalmology / Jacques Luyckx and Christophe Baudouin / https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3102588/
² The animals and plants that can live forever / Colin Barry 2015 / http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150622-can-anything-live-forever
³ Long live FOXO: unraveling the role of FOXO proteins in aging and longevity / Rute Martins, Gordon J. Lithgow, and Wolfgang Link 2015 / https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4783344/#__ffn_sectitle
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-life/invertebrates/jellyfish-and-comb-jellies
⁶ Facts About Tardigardes / Alina Bradford 2017 / https://www.livescience.com/57985-tardigrade-facts.html