Since the earliest times when humanity was able to educate itself, we have searched for immortality. Time is the only resource we lack due to the aging of our genes over time. Leonard Hayflick was the first biologist to understand the aging process within living organisms as well as to provide sound explanations for the reason for our life expectancy.

We all want to live forever if possible despite the harshness of our world and the study of biology has shown that there is little or no possibility for humans to reach immortality, until the discovery of a microscopic underwater animal that experts dubbed Hydra. Although biologists have known about their existence for some time, they were not thoroughly studied until 2015 when their amazing properties were recognized.

Hydra, which is only millimeters long, has been studied by biologists for its ability to regenerate and uncharacteristically long life. The name was given based on a character from Greek mythology called Hydra, a multi-headed reptile. Legend has it that this legendary beast is also immortal, every time a warrior cuts off his head it grows in its place with two more heads. This is also known as the “Hydra effect” as scientists have suggested that ecosystems can exhibit the Hydra effect when “higher mortality in a particular species eventually leads to an increase in its population size”.

Hydra’s hypo-aging, scientifically called non-aging, is due to the seemingly endless ability to regenerate stem cells. Stefan Seibert / Juliano’s Laboratory

The immortality offered by this microscopic animal is different and arguably better. The scientific name for this species is freshwater polyps that are able to live forever because their organisms do not age. What increases their ability to be an immortal type is that they are always fertile, which means they can always reproduce even to infinity.

With age, the fertility of every female declines with age. A study that began in 2007, analyzed 2,256 hydra over an 8-year period. The first incredible analysis was that none of the subjects showed any signs of aging. Usually, microscopic animals tend to live a maximum of two years, but most species usually have a lifespan of 3 months.

Another aspect is that during this long period of time, 86% of people remained fully fertile. The yardstick that was used to analyze the immortality of a species was to see its sustainability over a long period of time. Any other species of microscopic animal would have perished in a contained study with increased mortality and decreased fertility with age.

A similar study on the same species was done in 1998 by Daniel Martinez, a biologist who was also involved in this study, and it had very different results due to the poor conditions people underwent over time. Within this recent study, biologists have made sure that the hydra has ideal living conditions or is as close as possible to its natural environment. The results made the experts come to strong conclusions:

“I really believe that a single hydra can live forever under the right conditions” (quote from Daniel E. Martinez)

The simple body scheme of this organism assembled with the constant and rapid turnover of cells does not make sense from a biological perspective. Experts have named the biological properties represented by the hydra as no senescence (negligible aging) that can be performed based on the results of the study. The simplicity of this organism may be an illusion for its extraordinary complexity that it will take scientists years of study in order to crack this biological code.

In this case, I don’t think it is a problem of a lack of knowledge within the field, but a lack of sufficient technology required to analyze the microscopic animals in more depth. Although there is a strong argument in a scientific paper published in 2019 explaining why the technological progress of analyzing microbial organisms has been slow to develop.

Could this organism’s biological code lead us to become immortal? The better question in my opinion is whether we really want to be immortal under current expectations. Do you want to be immortal?

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