The Hydra polyp reproduces by budding rather than mating. It is about 1 cm in size. (Credit: CAU/Fraune)

Longevity gene that makes Hydra immortal also controls human aging

November 14, 2012

Why is the polyp Hydra immortal? Researchers from Kiel University decided to study it — and unexpectedly discovered a link to aging in humans.

The tiny freshwater polyp Hydra does not show any signs of aging and is potentially immortal. There is a rather simple biological explanation for this: these animals exclusively reproduce by budding rather than by mating.

A prerequisite for such vegetative-only reproduction is that each polyp contains stem cells capable of continuous proliferation. Due to its immortality, Hydra has been the subject of many studies regarding aging processes for several years.

When people get older, more and more of their stem cells lose the ability to proliferate and thus to form new cells. Aging tissue cannot regenerate any more, which is why for example muscles decline. Elderly people tend to feel weaker because their heart muscles are affected by this aging process as well.

If it were possible to influence these aging processes, humans could feel physically better for much longer. Studying animal tissue such as those of Hydra — an animal full of active stem cells during all its life — could deliver valuable insight into stem cell aging.

Read more: Longevity gene that makes Hydra immortal also controls human aging | KurzweilAI.

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