The Undying Hydra: A Freshwater Mini-Monster That Defies Aging | Deep Look

From Deep Look.

Could this tiny creature, named after a mythical multiheaded monster, hold the secret to eternal youth? Related to jellyfish and anemones, the hydra has an almost otherworldly ability to heal itself and stave off aging.

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DEEP LOOK is an ultra-HD (4K) short video series created by KQED San Francisco and presented by PBS Digital Studios. See the unseen at the very edge of our visible world. Explore big scientific mysteries by going incredibly small.

The hydra gets its name from the Lernaean Hydra, a monster from Greek mythology that guarded an entrance to the underworld. Chop off one of the beast’s many snake-like heads and two would grow in its place.

While much less formidable in size, the real hydra does have a remarkable ability to heal from injuries. Cut a hydra in half and within a few days the bottom half will grow a new head. The severed head grows a new body.

The secret to the hydra’s ability to heal and its seeming ability to not age is the abundance of stem cells that make up the hydra’s tube-shaped body column.

“The reason why hydra lives so long is because it has these continually active stem cells populations which don’t seem to slow down at all,” said Celina Juliano, a molecular and cellular biologist at UC Davis.

“They’re just constantly remaking all of the cells in the animal so every 20 days all of the cells are replaced with new cells.”

— What does a hydra eat?
Hydra use their tentacles to ensnare swimming prey. Stinging cells in the tentacle paralyze the prey, which the tentacles then move toward the hydra’s mouth. Hydra often eat like Daphnia and other aquatic invertebrates referred to informally as water fleas.

— How do hydra reproduce?
Hydra can reproduce asexually by cloning themselves. The new clone, called a bud, grows directly from the hydra’s side and eventually detaches. In addition to cloning, different species of hydra have different sexual reproduction strategies.

— How do hydra recover from injury?
A large amount of the cells in a hydra’s central column are stem cells. These cells can reproduce themselves and can also differentiate into all of the different specialized cells that make up the hydra’s body.

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