‘Immortal’ Irish Marine Animal Regenerates Indefinitely: Can Hydractinia Echinata Unlock The Secret To Human Ageing?

By Philip Ross on August 21, 2013 2:41 PM EDT

immortal marine animal
An “immortal” Irish marine animal, known as hydractinia echinata can regrow any lost body part, doesn’t age biologically and can even clone itself. (Photo: NOAA)

An "immortal" Irish marine animal can regrow any lost body part, doesn't age biologically and can even clone itself. Researchers are now determining whether or not the animal's remarkable ability to rejuvenate can provide insight into human ageing.

The organism, known as hydractinia echinatais, is a relative of the sea anemone and the jellyfish. Often referred to simply as "snail fur," hydractinia lives on the backs of gastropods like hermit crabs and sea snails. It is common along the coasts of Britain and Ireland.

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Hydractinia also has the amazing ability to, in essence, live forever. According to The Irish Times, the "immortal" organism can clone and regrow any missing body part. Even if its head is cut off, it'll simply sprout a new one within a few days.

Hydractinia gets its rejuvenation power from the fact that some of its stem cells remain in an embryonic state throughout its life. Known as "pluripotent" stem cells, the cells' developmental potential is not fixed, meaning they can become a number of different types of cells.

Researchers at the National University of Ireland's regenerative medicine institute are studying congenital defects and cancer biology, and they've stumbled upon an interesting discovery while studying the hydractinia organism. They've found a previously undetermined link between "heat-shock" proteins -- a group of proteins that become active when exposed to heat -- and a cell-signaling pathway, known as Wnt signaling, both of which are associated with cancer and cell growth.

"These two cellular signaling mechanisms are known to play important roles in development and disease, so they have been widely, though separately, studied", Dr Uri Frank, who leads the research team, told The Irish Times. "We have shown that they talk to each other, providing a new perspective for all scientists in this field."

This isn't the first time scientists have marveled over an essentially "immortal" marine organism. The Huffington Post reported last year on an "immortal jellyfish" that basically restarts its biological clock as it ages. Instead of dying, the jellyfish simply reverts back to a youthful state, turning old cells into new ones.

Figuring out why human cells can't do this is key to understanding immortality.

Read more from iScience Times:

Mammoth Blood Found In Siberia: Will Ice Age Species Be Cloned?

Neanderthal Clone: Harvard Professor Seeks 'Adventurous' Woman To Birth Test Tube Baby Caveman

Living Mammoth Cells Found: Can The Extinct Mammal Be Cloned?

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