What makes sea anemones immortal?

As far as we know these are immortal animals, genomics researcher Daniel Rokhsar says. “You can cut them in half, and they’ll create two new anemones.” Even if you cut off the tentacles and mouth at the top of the anemone, the remaining sac will eventually regrow its “head.” And if they aren’t eaten or killed by toxins in their environments, they can seemingly live forever. Rokhsar continued:

“They live a very long time – one was documented to have lived a hundred years. They don’t have old age. They live forever and proliferate, just getting bigger.”

You’d think that would be weird enough, but there’s something even stranger about sea anemones.

Despite the fact that they can live for so long, their cells don’t seem to mutate the way cells in elderly humans and other animals do. “You should see tumors in these animals, but we have very descriptions of that,” Rokhsar marveled. “They are constantly replenishing themselves without getting cancer.”

We have no idea why sea anemones are able to live for seemingly unlimited amounts of time without developing tumors. Rokhsar suggests it’s possible that they simply slough off their cells so quickly that they never have a chance to mutate. Their skin is only two cell layers thick, so it’s as if they shed their skins all the time. Or maybe they have another mechanism for preventing tumor growth.

Rokhsar hopes to find out, by studying the sea anemone genome further. Given that humans do share a common ancestor with these creatures, it’s possible that studying them might lead to a better understanding of how humans age and mutate. “Obviously it’s a lot harder for me to regrow my arm than for a sea anemone to regrow its body,” Rokhsar cautions. These are very simple animals, and their brand of immortality may never prove relevant to us. But then again, maybe it will.

Edited from What makes sea anemones immortal?.

This entry was posted in Biology, Evolution. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to What makes sea anemones immortal?

  1. alfy says:

    One of the things about tumours is that they are bits of the body which grow in the wrong place or too vigorously for the good of adjacent organs, Dermal tumours for example will often contain teeth hair or nails,all useful things but not in the middle of the patient’s back or armpit.

    Sea anemones have rather simple bodies so there aren’t many different kinds of bits which could arise as tumours. If for example an anemone grew a new head out of its side, it would be no big deal. It could cope with this quite easily until perhaps the tumour detached itself and took up an independent existence.

    The problem may be simply one of definition. How exactly do you define a tumour in an anemone?
    NB Sea anemones have skins two CELLS thick, not two atoms thick, following Wed evening’s discussion.

Comments are closed.