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Immortality! - The story of Hydra

Immortality - a phenomenon, we admire in characters of fictional books, - the impossible, crazy scientists hope to attain in their labs and the unfulfilled desire of all human kind. We could do a 100,000 things if we were immortal; take up more reading, switch to a better job or simply take more vacation time when needed. Yet the constraint of time pushes us to maximise what we have at hand, make most of resources available and fit in a myriad of things into our timelines to make our lives more 'meaningful'. But what if there was no time constraint. There was no pressure of perishing. There was always ample time to do what we wanted. Well, that's the life of Hydra, the microscopic fresh water creatures that lead an immortal life.

Hydra sp
The Hydra are small fresh water animals that are just a few milllimetres long and have a radial symmetry. Although, we have known Hydra since the 18th century, a recent discovery has sparked tremendous interest in these organisms. The paper published by Daniel Martinez in the year 1998 claimed that senescence was absent in Hydra. Now what is senescence you may ask. Senescence is the process of a cell growing old and ultimately dying.  In our youth, we have ample amount of stem cells that can replenish dying cells, but as we age, the number of stem cells in the body start decreasing and the replenishment of dead cells ceases. All living beings undergo this process throughout their life times and ultimately die, due to lack of new cells being generated in the body. Hydra, on the other hand, do not undergo this process at all and therefore, are immortal!

The secret to Hydra's immortality has now been revealed, thanks to the research done at Kiel University. It is called the FoxO gene. Initial reports have been able to show that in the absence of this gene Hydra show signs of aging. Basically, what scientists saw was the decreased number of stem cells in the Hydra when the activity of FoxO gene was obstructed. In Hydra, where the activity of FoxO gene was enhanced, researchers saw a larger number of stem cells available to replenish the old and dying lot. What the team of researchers at Kiel University also saw was the effect the obstruction or enhancement was having on the immune system of the organism.

 So, Hydra are immortal. How does it help us?

Interestingly, the FoxO gene is not something that is unique to Hydra but is also found in humans. Studies have shown that this gene is particularly active in people who live past 100 years. Research done on Hydra has been clear enough to demonstrate that an active FoxO gene means more stem cells that can replenish old and dying cells and saying good bye to senescence. Also, FoXo gene can help one boost his immune system as well.

 So, now that we know what the FoxO gene can do, it is time to let you imagination roll! But before you do that, do not forget to share this post with like-minded people!

Before you leave, here's a great video that shows a day in the life of a hydra

Martı́nez, D. (1998). Mortality Patterns Suggest Lack of Senescence in Hydra Experimental Gerontology, 33 (3), 217-225 DOI: 10.1016/S0531-5565(97)00113-7

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