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'Immortal' Jellyfish Threatens World's Oceans January 30, 2009
Turritopsis nutricula
Turritopsis nutricula, dubbed "The Immortal," dies only if it is eaten or killed.
A tiny sea creature with the theoretical ability to live forever may be growing in such numbers that it could eventually disrupt the maritime environment, according to a leading marine biologist.

“We are looking at a worldwide silent invasion,” Maria Miglietta of Smithsonian Tropical Marine Institute said on Monday.

Turritopsis nutricula is a jellyfish-like hydrozoan native to the Caribbean. But it has been spread around the world in ship ballast, creating offspring but not dying of old age.

It measures less than a quarter inch in length, and is the only known animal capable of reverting completely to its younger self.

While most members of the jellyfish family usually die after propagating, Turritopsis nutricula is able to switch back to a juvenile form once it mates through a process called transdifferentiation.

Its unique ability to cheat death is now the focus of research by marine biologists and geneticists, anxious to see exactly how the creature manages to reverse the aging process.

Photo: Massachusetts Institute of Technology