Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Immortal Jellyfish (good friends I'm guessing with the Gregarious jellyfish)

This New York Times Magazine Article may have just made my work relevant (for a day or two at least)!

The immortal jellyfish can shift between the mature form to polyp form and skip the sexual reproduction of a regular jellyfish lifecycle.  There are some awesome things about this; read the article.  What is awesome to me is that the major issue with studying this organism is that it is very difficult to keep in captivity.  They require careful attention to detail, especially detail to their eating habits. 

"For the last 15 years, Kubota has spent at least three hours a day caring for his brood. Having observed him over the course of a week, I can confirm that it is grueling, tedious work. When he arrives at his office, he removes each petri dish from the refrigerator, one at a time, and changes the water. Then he examines his specimens under a microscope. He wants to make sure that the medusas look healthy: that they are swimming gracefully; that their bells are unclouded; and that they are digesting their food. He feeds them artemia cysts — dried brine shrimp eggs harvested from the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Though the cysts are tiny, barely visible to the naked eye, they are often too large for a medusa to digest. In these cases Kubota, squinting through the microscope, must slice the egg into pieces with two fine-point needles, the way a father might slice his toddler’s hamburger into bite-size chunks. The work causes Kubota to growl and cluck his tongue.

“Eat by yourself!” he yells at one medusa. “You are not a baby!” Then he laughs heartily. It’s an infectious, ratcheting laugh that makes his round face even rounder, the wrinkles describing circles around his eyes and mouth.

It is a full-time job, caring for the immortal jellyfish. When traveling abroad for academic conferences, Kubota has had to carry the medusas with him in a portable cooler. (In recent years he has been invited to deliver lectures in Cape Town; Xiamen, China; Lawrence, Kan.; and Plymouth, England.) He also travels to Kyoto, when he is obligated to attend administrative meetings at the university, but he returns the same night, an eight-hour round trip, in order not to miss a feeding."

This is amazing.  Think about the work that Maude Delap and Mary Lebour did with Jellyfish feeding (and see my previous post about Delap).  

Unfortunately, the article makes a misstep. The author states:

"Until recently, the notion that human beings might have anything of value to learn from a jellyfish would have been considered absurd. Your typical cnidarian does not, after all, appear to have much in common with a human being. It has no brains, for instance, nor a heart. It has a single orifice through which its food and waste pass — it eats, in other words, out of its own anus."

The article then goes on to suggest that the usefulness of jellyfish to understandings of human physiology is based on genetic linkages unveiled during the Human Genome Project. This, of course, is completely ridiculous.  Physiologists have utilized jellyfish in the laboratory, and extrapolated their findings to humans, for over 100 years. T.H. Morgan, Jacques Loeb, and Alfred Goldsborough Mayer all worked on jellyfish and they utilized their findings to talk about human heart, intestinal and nerve functions. I've written a letter to the editor. We'll see what happens...

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