A spring of youth found at the bottom of the sea that gives hope for eternal life

Dmytro IvancheskulLife
Hydractinia symbiolongicarpus predominantly grows on the shells of hermit crabs. Source: NHGRI/Yale Peabody Museum/Collage OBOZREVATEL

The marine invertebrate creature Hydractinia symbiolongicarpus, which grows on the shells of hermit crabs, is able to regenerate any part or its entire body. To do so, it uses its own old cells to trigger a process that turns the surrounding healthy cells into stem cells.

This is according to a study published in the journal Cell Reports. The study was authored by scientists from the National University of Ireland and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) at the National Institutes of Health.

The inability of humans to regenerate may seem like a cruel joke of nature. Yes, our liver can regenerate and our skin can heal cuts, but compared to lizards that can regenerate entire limbs, humans are frankly at a disadvantage.

Now scientists have understood the secrets of regeneration of the marine organism, which can regenerate not only limbs, but its entire body.

We are talking about the invertebrate Hydractinia symbiolongicarpus. This creature, which is something between a worm and a sea anemone, is able to use worn-out, old or aging cells to its advantage. These cells help it activate surrounding healthy cells, turning them into stem cells that can replace any missing body fragment.

Hydractinia symbiolongicarpus

If this "technology" of cell transformation can be applied to humans, we may actually have a cure for any disease and probably a source of eternal youth in our own bodies.

Human aging is a natural process by which our body's cells fail, losing their ability to grow and divide. If these old cells do not die off, they begin to produce substances that can trigger age-related diseases such as Alzheimer's, arthritis and even cancer.

In Hydractinia, however, aging cells actually perform the opposite function, provoking regeneration and renewal. Scientists have known before that the creature is capable of storing stem cells in its torso, which help regenerate parts of the body, but the mechanism of their work has only now been revealed.

During the study, scientists amputated the animal's mouth, which was on top of its body, to see what would happen. The scientists were beyond amazed when it turned out that the hydractinia was still able to regenerate a completely new body.

They also learned that unlike humans, hydractinia are able to get rid of aging cells by ejecting them directly through their mouths.

By studying cells near the amputation site, the researchers found three promising genes associated with aging. One of them, called Cdki1, was turned on and appeared to mainly direct regeneration. Deletion of this gene deprived the creature of the ability to regenerate.

Scientists indicate that humans and hydractinii last had a common ancestor more than 600 million years ago. It is possible that aging may be a long-standing mechanism that instructs cells near the injury to prepare for regeneration.

Other evolved consequences of aging may have been necessary because complex organisms needed their cells to remain stable. This was necessary to eliminate the possibility of unrestricted and uncontrolled cell regeneration, as in the case of cancer.

"We still don't understand how aging cells trigger regeneration and how widespread this process is in the animal world. Fortunately, by studying some of our most distant animal relatives, we can begin to unravel some of the secrets of regeneration and aging - secrets that may ultimately contribute to the development of regenerative medicine and the study of age-related diseases," said study co-author and NHGRI senior researcher Andy Baxevanis.

OBOZREVATEL also previously reported that scientists intend to study the possibility of transferring cells from deer responsible for the annual renewal of antlers to humans.

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