Immortality Project Funding Increased To Include Study of Immortal Jellyfish

art_kunkin_by_mark_berry6-webThe John Templeton Foundation has awarded University of California at Riverside philosophy professor John Martin Fischer an additional $100,000 to its original $5 million dollar grant of 2012 to support research on issues related to immortality.

This latest grant will fund four graduate fellowships at UCR — two each for the next two academic years — for immortality studies, and a weeklong workshop for young scholars from around the world prior to a June 2015 ending conference for the Immortality Project.

In May, the project awarded $2.4 million in grants for science-based research on issues related to immortality. Included was Prof. Daniel Martínez’s project on”Identifying and Characterizing the Genes of Immortality in Hydra.” Martínez will use his $250,000 grant to determine what genes are implicated in making the freshwater hydra effectively immortal, research that has implications for human medicine.

Daniel Martínez, a biologist at Pomona College and one of the world’s leading hydroid scholars, was previously awarded a five-year, $1.26 million research grant by the National Institutes of Health to study the immortal jellyfish. The body of this jellyfish is almost entirely composed of stem cells that allow it to regenerate itself continuously.

As a Ph.D. candidate, Martínez set out to prove that hydra were mortal. But his research of the last 15 years has convinced him that hydra can, in fact, survive forever and are “truly immortal.”

“The research should push forward the frontiers of knowledge about death and immortality in various ways,” said John Martin Fischer. “I expect that we will advance our understanding of the prospects for increasing human longevity and of the ability of certain creatures (hydra) to achieve a kind of immortality by reproducing themselves; that we will achieve a more refined evaluation of the nature, significance, and impact of near-death experiences; and that we will gain a better understanding of the relationship between our ‘commonsense’ or ‘natural’ beliefs about personhood, religion, or the deceased and our views about immortality.”

Humans finally discovered eternal life in 1988. The discovery was made by Christian Sommer while snorkeling. Sommer at that time was a German marine-biology student in his early 20s.

Sommer was conducting research on hydrozoans, small invertebrates that resemble either a jellyfish or a soft coral. While scanning the ocean floor, he gathered the hydrozoans with plankton nets. Among the hundreds of organisms he collected was a tiny, relatively obscure species known to biologists as Turritopsis dohrnii. Today it is more commonly known as the immortal jellyfish.

Sommer kept his hydrozoans in petri dishes and observed their reproduction habits. After several days he noticed that his Turritopsis dohrnii were behaving in a very peculiar manner. Plainly speaking, they refused to die. They appeared to age in reverse, growing younger and younger until they reached the earliest stage of development, at which point they began its life cycle anew.

In 1996 several biologists in Genoa published a paper about the jellyfish titled “Reversing the Life Cycle.” The scientists described how the jellyfish could transform themsleves back to a polyp, the organism’s earliest stage of life, “thus escaping death and achieving potential immortality.” This finding appeared to debunk the most fundamental law of the natural world — you are born, and then you die.

One of the paper’s authors, Ferdinando Boero, likened the Turritopsis jellyfish to a butterfly that, instead of dying, turns back into a caterpillar. Another metaphor is a chicken that transforms into an egg, which gives birth to another chicken. The human analogy is that of an old man who grows younger and younger until he is again a fetus.

Some scientists believe that the immortal jellyfish is the most miraculous species in the entire animal kingdom. Based on this belief they conclude that this research will make it possible to solve the mystery of immortality and achieve eternal life for human beings.


Art Kunkin is the 85-year young journalist who founded the alternative weekly newspaper, The Los Angeles Free Press in 1964, became Professor of Journalism at Cal State University Northridge and later became president of the Philosophical Research Society of Los Angeles.  A free download of a magazine cover story interview with Art about his research into stopping aging is now available at  Art’s eBook, “Life Extension Alchemy: The Secret of Immortality Finally Revealed” is also available at a reduced sale price at that web site. His email address is Email him about the book he is writing, “The Los Angeles Free Press: Internet of the 60’s.” or about his weekly Thursday class in Joshua Tree.  Copyright 2013 by Art Kunkin. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Michal Alaniz.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.