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Ageless Animals

What can we learn from animals that are “immortal”? Stowers scientists are trying to find out.

03 July 2024

Image of coral used in the lab of Matt Gibson

Nature is filled with organisms that seem to never age. Giant sequoias, the tallest trees in the world, towering on California’s coast have been thriving for thousands of years. Certain species of coral can also survive the test of time. Koi fish and turtles can live for over 200 years. A species of jellyfish, aptly named the “immortal jellyfish” can even reverse biological aging.

Understanding the mechanisms underlying immortality may one day make it possible to delay the inevitable, or at the very least diminish aging’s impacts on health.

Planarian flatworms

Planarian flatworms are remarkable at regeneration. As they grow, occasionally a piece breaks off and generates a new worm. This continuous cycle of reproduction is enabled by a ubiquitous supply of stem cells. In fact, following a lethal dose of radiation, a single stem cell can rescue and restore an adult flatworm. Research from the lab of Stowers Institute President and Chief Scientific Officer Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado, Ph.D., investigates the potent powers of planarian stem cells that may one day enable regenerative capabilities in humans.

Nematostella and Coral

The starlet sea anemone or Nematostella vectensis is another seemingly immortal creature. Investigator Matt Gibson, Ph.D., studies Nematostella for clues to unlock how animal development evolved over 600 million years ago.

The Gibson Lab also studies the sea anemone’s cousin – coral. While coral is a sensitive species, subject to bleaching and subsequent death due to climate change, it can live for thousands of years under optimal conditions.


Bacteria and Yeast

Single-celled species of bacteria and yeast are the organisms of interest to several Stowers labs. The labs of Assistant Investigators’ Ameya Mashruwala, Ph.D., and Siva Sankari, Ph.D., research bacteria for their abilities to convene in communities and as symbionts, respectively. Yeast is widely studied at the Institute for insights into cell division, reproduction, and evolution. Researchers also study these species to explore links between genes and longevity. Gaining insight into the fundamental biology of single-celled organisms has the potential for a deeper understanding of our own biology, including aging.

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