Could Age-Defying Worms Make Us Immortal?

Scientists have found an flatworm species that can overcome the aging process, potentially becoming immortal by rejuvenating their telomeres. What can humans learn from the process?

What's the Latest Development?


Scientist have discovered a species of flatworm that can overcome the aging process, potentially making it immortal, by rejuvenating the genetic material believed to be at the root of aging. English researchers have found that when the planarian worm reproduces asexually, both the parent and offspring, "regenerate indefinitely by growing new muscles, skin, guts and even entire brains over and over again." Whereas cells typically show signs of aging as an organism grows, the planarian's cells are somehow able to continue dividing. 

What's the Big Idea?

The genetic root of the aging process is a 'cap' on stem cell genes called telomeres. During healing, reproductive and growing processes, stem cells divide and the telomere cap gradually shrinks until the cells can no longer reproduce. "Previous work, leading to the award of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, had shown that telomeres could be maintained by the activity of an enzyme called telomerase." The study found that planarian worms do indeed increase the length of their telomeres as they grow and divide.

Photo credit: shutterstock.com


Related Articles

Why the world needs death to prosper

Scientists have developed new ways of understanding how the biological forces of death drive important life processes.

Surprising Science
  • Researchers have found new ways on how decomposing plants and animals contribute to the life cycle.
  • After a freak mass herd death of 300 reindeer, scientists were able to study a wide range of the decomposition processes.
  • Promoting the necrobiome research will open up new areas of inquiry and even commerce.
Keep reading Show less

Why birds fly south for the winter—and more about bird migration

What do we see from watching birds move across the country?

E. Fleischer
Surprising Science
  • A total of eight billion birds migrate across the U.S. in the fall.
  • The birds who migrate to the tropics fair better than the birds who winter in the U.S.
  • Conservationists can arguably use these numbers to encourage the development of better habitats in the U.S., especially if temperatures begin to vary in the south.
Keep reading Show less

How does alcohol affect your brain?

Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.

(Photo by Angie Garrett/Wikimedia Commons)
Mind & Brain
  • Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
  • Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
  • Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
Keep reading Show less