The Curious Case of the Immortal Jellyfish

By Nina Bai | January 29, 2009 2:45 pm

hydrozoaIt’s official: the only thing certain in this world is taxes. That’s because death, for a tiny sea creature, is not inevitable. Turritopsis nutricul, a jellyfish-like hydrazoan, is the only animal known to be potentially immortal.

Once it reaches sexual maturity, Turritopsis looks like a tiny, transparent, many-tentacled parachute (only about 5mm in diameter) that floats freely in warm ocean waters. But when times get tough, Turritopsis can turn into a blob, anchor itself to a surface, and undergo a sort of reverse methamorphosis back to its youthful form as a stalk-like polyp. That’s like a butterfly turning back into a caterpillar. Scientists, who first described this phenomenon [pdf] in the 1990s, believe Turritopsis can repeat its life cycle indefinitely.

The trick to Turritopsis‘ infinite do-overs is a process called transdifferentiation, which turns one type of cell into another. While other animals can undergo limited transdifferentiation to regenerate organs (salamandars can regrow limbs, for example), Turritopsi is the only one that can regenerate its entire body.

Not surprisingly, the immortal Turritopsi are spreading. Native to the Caribbean oceans, Turritopsi have now been identified in waters near Spain, Italy, Japan, and the Atlantic side of Panama. Even though specimens from different locations have different numbers of tentacles (from 8 to 24), genetic tests confirm that they are of the same species. Researchers believe the creatures are criss-crossing the oceans by hitchhiking in the ballast tanks of large ships.

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Image: Maria Pia Miglietta

MORE ABOUT: immortality, jellyfish
  • Frank V.

    At least there doesn’t seem to be any danger of them damaging their new ecosystems.

  • Bijoou

    Does anyone know what they eat? Think I’d like some of that myself . . . . . .

  • Adam

    Hmmm… has Nature developed its own “grey goo”? Are the oceans going to end up full of these babies because we’ve perturbed the ecosystem too much? Scary immortal jellyfish… ARRGHH!

  • Larry Van Pelt

    Sounds like the equivalent of stem cells turning back into stem cells.

    Also seems like there ought to be a tremendous opportunity lurking here, too.

    Not to make money. Rather to recover and remake sustainable life on the planet, undoing human damage. Eh what?

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  • arteest!grl96


  • pk

    What about the DNA, that is probably accumulating damages and mutation after each differentiation and eventually the organism should die/not able to revert back after certain number of rejuvenation. Nothing is immortal..its only a matter of can just last longer..rejuvenate a finite number of times

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  • Arthur Ice

    HeLa. also immortal, kicker? it’s a species that came from humans…one human in particular at that.

  • Jackflap

    I, for one, welcome our new immortal jellyfish overlords

  • Michael Click

    I’m no science major, but it it is my understanding that hydozoans (jellyfish and the like) aren’t true animals but more like a colony, with cells specializing for the greater good of the whole. How that’s different from how the cells in our bodies work I don’t know, but I’d think that changing forms would be more like reorganizing a work party than actual “shape-shifting” to an earlier body type.

    As far as what these things eat, if they are like other jellyfish that’d be plankton and tiny shrimp and fish.

    No, the oceans will not eventually be full of “grey goo” immortal jellyfish. They are too good a meal (in large quantities) for other animals up the food chain.

  • Richard

    This is interesting. Maybe scientists can soon analyze its DNA and find something out of it which can make human organ cell transdifferentiate to renew itself.

  • Ahmed Zorgui

    Do these jellyfish have stinging tenticals like the normal kind of jellyfish. If they do this could become a very big or small problem.

  • SuperSparky

    Simple fix:

    Just tell the Chinese it’s an aphrodisiac or some cure-all. Problem solved.

  • Nathan William Foster

    I’ve tried Marinated Jellyfish for the first time ever just a couple days ago, And it was quiet delicious actually, Yummy yummy, endless supply of food ^_^

    • Bemused

      Wait… what? Endless supply of food? What are you talking about?

  • Jared

    It’s still has to regenerate cells which means it has to copy DNA which means there will be errors/mutations which means eventually it will die. After a while it will get something like cancer that it can’t heal or maybe enough random mutation will occur that will simply make it impossible to regenerate. It may take hundreds if not thousands of years, depending on it’s metabolism, but they will not be completely immune to the death that time will bring.

  • Hypno Duck

    Interesting stuff. But reading these comments, seriously guys how many jellyfish (or indeed any creature in the wild) usually dies of old age rather than predation or disease? They’re not going to take over the world.

  • Mike G

    There are lots of animals, particularly cnidarians and other simple groups like nematodes, which are theoretically immortal, so this is far from the first case. All that means though is that the animals don’t accumulate cellular and genetic damage over time so their cells and DNA don’t wear out like ours do. They grow older without aging. The mechanisms they use to do that are a big topic of research since higher animals have trouble pulling off such tricks.

    However, these animals are far from immortal in practice. They just don’t die of old age. Most of them have high rates of turnover due to disease and predation. For example one coral I’ve worked with was theoretically immortal, but very few lived to be 30 yrs old and almost none lived beyond 35.

  • Aaron

    salamanders not salamandars.



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  • steele

    would be cool if people started cloning these and using them as a food source/super antibiotics.

  • biotele

    Is it really immortal? Because after many cycles all the cells in the organism are replaced with new ones. This is a process of uninterrupted cloning, basically, not immortality. the original organism dies and is gradually replaced unperceived by a clone.

    This is nature equivalent to theseus ship:

  • Sarah P.

    No worries! These jellyfish are Godless
    Liburuls! We will hunt them down
    and destroy them to make Earth the
    way God (and ME!) intended!

    You betcha!

  • Larry

    If this were true they would have already filled the oceans by now after probably only a couple of hundred thousand years. They die.

  • Skwerley

    Larry of course they die. but by other causes potentially. being eaten, poisoned, otherwise killed. but a species that adapted to death isnt at all unbelievable. if plants can make what are apparently conscious decisions to release chemical cocktails to attract specific insects for specific reasons, why wouldnt an animal be adapted to basically tell his cells to start over? the only reason animals get old and wither away is because they are designed to. we constantly make new and recycle old cells within our bodies. why does that slow over time? its in the programming man. its not a “law” of nature.

  • Chris

    @ biotele:

    You can apply the same principle of Theseus’ Ship to the human body. Most of the cells in your body are less than ten years old, but since you seem to have a decent comprehension of Greek Philosophical puzzles, I’m assuming that you’re not a fourth grader. This is just an organism that is able to continue the process of remaking itself indefinitely, or at least until its genes are damaged severely, or something happens to kill it. Humans and more complex lifeforms aren’t able to do this because there is so much in us that can break down. A jellyfish doesn’t even have real organs.

  • reverendsteveii

    Death is an evolved trait. In order for genetic material to be adaptable to a changing environment, recombination must occur, usually through reproduction. In an environment with limited resources, reproduction without death would lead, inevitably, to starvation. It’s akin to phasing out an old product in favor of a new one. Being immortal is not just impossible, in the practical sense and the sense of Theseus’ Ship, but it is undesirable.

  • Jim


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  • Dr. Donald B. MacGowan

    Always bearing in mind, of course, that “Immortal Jellyfish” would be a brilliant name for a rock band!

  • Glen R.

    That is a wicked little animal! even though it has no real existence because its not an intelligent creature. It must be purely ran on instinct.? But from one of the comments to where we could somehow develop a breakthrough in science to help with human death. if that were to happen the earth would definitely be overly populated and the earth would become something far worse than now or what we expect in the future. we should be worried that in 2010 the standard computer will be more complicated and smarter than the human brain!!!!

    • Km17_17

      We are in 2012 and is not smarter.

  • og

    put jellyfish in tank, let them reproduce, use there motion for energy

    • Gumby

      That’s actually really smart, come to think of it! 😮

  • jellyfish Joe

    Shopped by God.

  • GoodQuestion

    When we site cancer as a reasonable “natural” death for these jellyfish, we must not forget that their immortality is tied to transdifferentiation. which is to say, a defective or cancerous cell can be changed into a completely different type of cell when the jellyfish is faced with the adversity of dealing with it’s cancerous cells. For this reason, these animals would be particularly resistant to cancer giving them, what appears for now, limitless do-overs.

    We need to keep our minds open to new possibilities when faced with bold new discoveries that challenge what we have believed to be true. We should be mindful to note that the concept of “old” and “young” are bound to the man-made construct of linear “time” placing one event irrevocably in front of the other. It is completely plausible that a creature exists that does not obey our rules.

    I think this is a wonderful discovery that will need to be studied many decades before we implant them in the bloodstreams our super soldiers! 😛

  • Bart van Herk

    Sloppy, you should pay more atttention to your nomenclature. HydrOzoan, SalamandEr.


  • atomed

    I want it for myself…I mean, turning back to a child, go to school, eat tons of chocolate and get gifts on Christmas…definitely science must copy that.

  • Mark

    thank god they are only potentially immortal and will still die because of lack of food and other shortages.

    • Epiclonnesity

      They revert back to polyps because of lack of food.

  • RC8e

    I agree with a previous poster that rather than immortal these jellyfish are just self replicating or cloning. When they regress they actually die and regenerate into a new being.

  • cuje

    I wonder what they taste like…

  • Cam

    If this article is true, then this jellyfish is certainly not the only practically immortal animal.
    Hydra’s (small freshwater creature) do not undergo senescence (aging) or if they do, it is at a much, much slower rate than any other creature on earth.

    • Nobleknightmaster

       So the Timelords go on. Dr. Who you are not alone, Your race it seems has regenerated as the immortal jellyfish.

  • Chazwiz

    I, for one, object to these jellyfish as they do not conform to my way of life. I also object to all the prime numbered posts.I have my reasons.

    PS – My shoe size is 10. Viva M P. Graham – We miss you.

  • gran chill a kill

    Do they even mate? talks about sexual maturity but mentions nothing about mating… maybe they like 2 go to a rock concert!

  • Lars

    Aaaargh, jackflap beat me to it. By more than two months!!! Woe is me.

  • jennxsomething

    Why is everyone treating this like its h1n1? apparently the jellyfish have found a fountain of youth, so to speak. if humans could harness that talent we could live forever. this is what science has been looking for for years. i think its neat that they can do this. am i the only one?

  • Trod

    These aren’t new, so it’s unlikely their numbers will conquer the Earth’s oceans, since they haven’t yet.

    Damage to the DNA of their make-up cells will likely cause their demise, or being eaten by a whale shark or other plankton-feeding animal.

  • BAG BRO 2

    What about NanoBots… If we could harness this transdifferentiation for human DNA, then inject our bodies with NanoBots to zoom around our bodies and destroy any DNA that mutates, we could live even longer than forever… unless we get eaten by a whale or a shark. Jackflap is right… we better just embrace our new jellyfish overlords.

  • K. heimer

    I’m sooooooooooo confused.

  • Tony Y

    Wow this is sort of like “The Tomorrow Code,” Adam, bc that book is about human error, but dang this is totally awesome.
    BAG BRO 2, you do realize that mutations are what allow us to live? without differentiation we would die

  • Joseph

    I hope they’re edible

  • ella

    the name “immortal” is misleading. the organism can still die (nervous system taken off,, predation, disease). so the name is sort of a contradiction. the animal does not stay as one life form for ever.

  • Hey You

    After reading comments here I wonder why many of you are bothering to read a science site? Huh? Oh yeah, it’s Discover……

  • Jonathan

    The first pet that can become a family relic
    (as long as they’re with two for the reproduction)

  • Jonathan

    by the way, does anyone know how LONG it takes for one of these to mature and then rejuvenate?

  • ringelhut

    how is it that all comments here are about eating them, killing them or keeping them as pets? that tells us a lot about the human animal.

  • David

    Don’t let the fans of twilight see this or they will believe in teenager vampires for sure

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  • Vishal Kurani

    Interesting stuff! Immortality finally found in nature! Why is that immortality surprises us like nothing else? This is like watching a beautiful sunset without trying to express how beautiful it is!

  • Leon

    I wonder whether scientist can copy its DNA and combine with human’s body?
    If this happen, who knows it would be a better or WORSE day?

  • Japie Aapie

    This is totally hilarious. Did any of you people (post number 1 to 62 — excluding prime numbers for reasons mentioned above) actually READ the original article?

    Ever realized that things die if you eat them?

    Anyway, you made my day, collectively.

  • Luke duke

    Just stumbled from siue…this is amazing. we as humans would try to out live our time on earth…eventually people would attempt suicide, were not meant to live forever neither is this poor little hydrazoan

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  • jhk

    I want a breeding pair. Like now. I want to eat drink and breathe these f***ers. Sounds like mankind has found a new lifeform to dominate and this one hold secrets to immortality (save any fatal life events).

    I want the Japanese on this NOW.

    [Moderator’s note: Edited the cuss word.]

  • blahblahblah

    The Chuck is the only “Immortal” being. These puny species can be eaten. Let’s see someone eat something like Chuck Norris. 😛

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  • Fawn

    I think that everyone should chill out, true these jellyfish and their natural ability to regenerate do make us question our preconceived notions of life, death, and youth, but there is also a lot of untapped potential here. Not even just for humans to live forever, but for humans to live longer, or have transdifferentiation work it’s magic in the way of curing diseases. Imagine a world where stem cells aren’t needed because our bodies are made of them entirely.

  • aldo montoya


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  • Hanaichi

    This creature may have the potential to be immortal but it is not true immortality. This is simply “conditional immortality” where the creature is able to live forever so long nothing affects it’s existence, like diseases, pollution and predation. It can only be said to have true immortality if it dies for real after a disease affliction or after being eaten and somehow comes back to life or regenerates from a small piece of it that is left. And talking about immortality, what is the estimated time it takes for this creature to turn to an adult and then back to a polyp? Cellular organisms don’t take too long…. a week to a month is my guess.

  • fred

    Even if humans could harness biological immortality one can still die through physical trauma, disease, environmental issues etc. If you’re lucky you may be able to live a few hundred or thousand years…

  • Hyacinthe Botty-Irié

    Nothing that has been created by God is immortal. It is a matter of time.

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  • catoe 67

    I agree with that david guy about the twilight fans. But still yeah itd be great for us individually to somehow take advantage of the trait the jellyfish earned and live forever. But we get sick, and killed. Its not unusual for mankind to be killed off unnaturally. Plus we already have population crisis’s as it is. Whole over, man being immortal is bad for earth. We were not made to be that way. And what would you do for an eternity anyway? And has everyone else not noticed the fact that it restarts completely? We dont stay set one age. We start off in infant form or probably before that, would you remember who you used to be? Would you want to be reborn again? Im only 15 but still living a life over and over again not knowing why you are here and having to be reborn in a world full of people changing and dissapearing seems to be the death of the phrase “Be Yourself” So is it a cure or curse?

  • nailed

    I don’t want to brag but I myself is turning 30 this year and I still look like a teener. Maybe my cells are the same as this jelly guy or maybe slightly different. hmmm


    Does anybody know if their is research being done too see if their is any way too put this trait in a humans DNA?

  • Satya

    How big are these will they fix in an aquarium, will be a good pet and attraction for you grand children and theirs …

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  • German

    They NEED to get these creatures into products that have similar effects on humans. Girl I BE Looking Good!!!
    Second off we’ll just have to learn to eat these babies, and have them be the new chicken 😉
    MMMM I do love me some immortal jellyfish.

  • Robert

    I hope Obama does something to stop them!!! He promised to stop them during his campaign too. :)

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  • Hasan F Shaikh

    its amazing….i want to know more!!

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  • Heat

    I thought about it alot and i know how to kill them:Kill them in their earliest state so they cannot revert back since their all the way reverted already :)

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  • pilo3455

    It is awsome cuz it iz sik

  • pilo3455

    Love thiz fish

  • pilo3455

    Look at 2 0 it iz awzone Long Unlive the jelly fish

  • diana libunao

    which turritopsis is really the one that’s considered as immortal, the turritopsis nutricula or the turritopsis dohrnii? pls. do tell me, i’m confused..

  • Maja

    If this is rejuvenating cells, I wonder if it could induction cancer/ tumor cells to become smaller.

  • Bryan

    Those of you fantasizing at human immortality — first of all, it’ll never happen. Second, it’s an incredibly arrogant desire. Think about it. The planet is already well beyond a long-term sustainable carrying capacity, and you’d want to keep pushing the limit? This will be a world with no space, no resources and a bunch of sweaty, smelly human beings who ran out of deodorant long ago when fossil fuels were depelted and we kicked ourselves for being too arrogant and lazy to develop renewable energy technologies. If you want ice-water, you won’t live near the equator. Humans, as apex predators and master exploiters of organic resources, need to die lest we face a miserable future. Any research in creating human immortality should be quickly squelched.
    Yours is a world where the new doctor is the assisted suicide specialist (ASS).

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  • Brian

    Bryan, first of all, you need to do some serious research. We as a species have already identified the primary causes of aging, and for the majority of them we are close to solutions. As for the overpopulation problem… Well, that’s perfectly valid, and we’ll most likely kill ourselves as a result unless someone is looking into space colonization or a habitable planet in our solar system. OH! Wait. NASA is looking into colonization methods, and we found a moon that can (probably) sustain carbon based life. Oops. My mistake.

  • kiven

    technically Turritopsis dohrnii does not live forever. this jelly fish regress into a polyp colony transformed asexual reproduction a near copies of it self but its not the same as the adult. the adult is gone. its die but the cell has change into a child.
    the rest of the adult jelly fish was broken down in to another form. the original adult jelly fish is gone. its no longer the same adult jelly fish. its form became a offspring not the adult.

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  • Rz

    This is FAR from the only/first species to be theoretically immortal.
    Lobsters, for instance, do not age due to their high levels of telomerase, which repairs the end segments of their DNA after each cell replication. See also the hydra, and a few other species.

  • spazdaq

    i vote we refer to this creature from hereon out as the “tupac jellyfish”

  • Energy Conservation

    Turritopsis nutricul, a jellyfish-like hydrazoan, is the only animal known to be potentially immortal.

  • solar

    Typical,…you can live forever, but you have to be a jellyfish :/

  • flared0ne

    Before you get a serious inferiority complex about it, keep in mind that this “immortality” in one sense resembles the polymerase chain reaction used to amplify extremely small samples of DNA into useable quantities — if you stop cycling between temperature extremes, the chain reaction stops working.

    In the same sense, if one particular jellyfish does NOT experience “tough times”, the transdifferentiation process does NOT kick in, and that unlucky “life is good” jellyfish “shuffles off this mortal coil” just like the rest of us poor sods. Talk about “every dark cloud has a silver lining”, eh?? If you DON’T have some bad with the good, you’re screwed.

    And speaking of screwed: transdifferentiation opens up a whole different kettle of fish (Umm, chowder!) to be researched. In regards “sexual maturity” — does the reborn little varmint always return to the same gender (if that means anything to a jellyfish)? And while I doubt the complexity is there to actually LEARN anything, dare we assume a completely “blank slate” after every rebirth?

    Someone should gengineer some of these to fluoresce in different colors and then release them into the wild for a thousand years or so…

  • Moose

    no if we were to try to make a human live longer/forever, that would be what we call playing God, the same way you make mutant gorillas and dogs with forked tongues. humans were not meant to live forever, and that is the way it should be

  • DezONe

    Do these jellyfish Sting?

  • mansell

    does the cells that making them immortal can possibly be transfered to people?
    just asking..

  • Steve R

    So if the genes for transdifferentiation can be spliced out into retroviruses, we could transport them across state lines for immortal porpoises!

    More interestingly, possibly immortal people too.

  • Chimacintosh

    With pollution in the oceans, overfishing by man, and raising global temperatures do we really want to live forever? Isn’t there a time when we allow others to enjoy that which we once did?

  • Hongbao Ma

    I need Turritopsis nutricula and please ask email me if you have it:

  • Hongbao Ma

    I did a lot on the literature research on Turritopsis nutricula. I need this jellyfish in my lab. Please email me if you have it or if you know how to get it:


    Ma, Hongbao


    I have wanted to post something like this on one of my blogs and this has given me an idea. Thank you.

  • Tuhd the Internet Troll

    Tuhd kinda not surprised there is at least one creature that figured out how to reboot itself. Now we just gots to figure out how to do that with peoples.

  • Alex

    Wow, that is truly amazing!

  • Alex M.

    It is the rise of a new dominant species of this world. Created to destroy the human race and it’s superior like attitude hahahahaha.

  • andthemachine

    Immortal is an over statement. I’m assuming the specimen photo of this creature was not taken when it was alive. Researchers have to had killed them somehow.

  • Julia

    Wow, what a fascinating animal! That is mindblowing that a creature could practically reverse its life like that.

    The opening paragraph of this article made me laugh. :)

  • claire

    Has anyone isolated the gene that does this yet?
    Imagine the potential… if we genetically modify, say, a rat, to have that gene, would the rat be able to live forever?

    Could we potentially create everlasting humans?

  • Jamie

    If we somehow manage to harness this power somewhere down the line, we are so f*****.

  • Eamon

    I’ll have what he’s havin’!

  • ann


    This jellyfish is a Time Lord! :O

    • The Doctor

      He’s not just a Time Lord. He’s the last of the Time Lords…

  • Garret

    I think this is pretty cool. Scientist should research how to harness that ability to help cure deficient organs or body parts… maybe even reverse cancer.

  • Eowen

    If Darwin was right, this is the beginning of the end of humanity.

  • Sarah

    I hope that there is no possible way to separate that gene and formulate something compatible with humans. Not only would it be the most expensive thing out there, but there are also a lot of people that should not have the opportunity to live forever.

  • Paul

    We human and other living thing have a great thing in common, we are mortal. Fascinating story.

  • Grzelecki

    lengthen life as long as you want but immortality would be the end of us all, at this moment i believe that humans are no and possibly will never be ready to be immortal except for maybe couple exceptional individuals 

  • Insanity Claus 1

    This means that one day there will be a war between mankind and the Jellyfish – due to dwindling resources.   I wonder how they taste?

  • Mercutio

    I volunteer as the first test subject

  • Kapil

    imagine supreme court judges like judge clarence thomas on such a medication.

    • Ninja Police!

      Imagine not being a leftist lowlife.

  • read a book

    Man look at all these ignorant fuck head comments… Fuckheads, fuckheads everywhere….

  • Private

    Computers are not smart nor are they complicated or capable of organic thought, they are however very small switches which take engineering precision on unbelievable scales to create. Human brains, if they have a language, like binary (proverbial 1s and 0s), are still capable of calculating at far greater rates then any stadium sized super computer could ever dream (play on words there if you caught it) of doing.

  • katie

    You could argue that you are also a form of clone then. Every seven years you are a completely different person, in terms of cells.

    • Prashasti

      i agree with u katie… but even if humans are provided with all favourable circumstances they wont live for ever…while if these jellyfishes are provided with favourable circumstances they will live for ever…endless cloning is another name for immortality..

  • Bablin

    They are little baby Cthulu! How cute!

  • Arkady Is Pizza

    Wow this is an amazing fucking story, that I happen to stumbleupon to, and all the people who comment on it are morons, cool. AREN’T YOU HAPPY THAT THEY’RE NOT SCORPIONS! OR ALLIGATORS! OR DEER?! Jeeeze

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  • Cloud

    So this is how the apocalypse begins…

  • Cjwhitt

    Why is this not bieng put to futher research if we could adapt this to our genes correctly we would unlock not only the key to immortality but the key to eternal youth as well


    “the only thing certain in this world is taxes.”
    This is funny.

  • Jonny Heath

    Bit late to the party but this is cool.

  • flooding arlington

    That is mean to say to the Chinese people that these jelly fish are aphrodisiac. Haha! 😀

  • Anonymous

    Remove money, motivate by the heart and mind and taxes no longer exist for society is guided and held by virtue and community.

  • screwujoy


  • Bugi

    Glad you figured this out in 2009.

  • Gabriellegilbert39

    hey you guys living forever is WRONG TERRIBLE HORRIBLE HORRID!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • MENiM3

    How if we take the dna of that creature and put it in the humans ?


  • Janic

    Woah, that is cool,


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