Geoff Blackwell, Queensland, Australia asked:
Iíd like to know if there are any life forms: plant, animal, fungus, whatever that are effectively immortal?
We spoke to Dr John Nudds, Senior Lecturer in Palaeontology at the University of Manchester to find the answer...
One of the longest living vertebrate animals, and many listeners will be aware of this, is the giant land tortoise. Thereís a nice story about Captain Cook, the explorer, presenting one of these animals to the queen of Tonga in 1788. This animal eventually died in 1966, 188 years later. The animal was probably mature by the time he collected it.
If we turn our attention to the plant kingdom we can multiply these figures by a factor of ten. Thereís a well-known example of the bristlecone pine trees which grow in the rocky mountains of North America. These are well-known to live for over 4000 years. I think the recordís about 4600 years.
Again these figures have recently been doubled by research in Sweden. Scientists here came across a Norway spruce whose root system had been growing for 9550 years!
If we now move onto some of the simpler life forms then the numbers do start to get really big. In 1995 a sample of bacteria was found in a stomach of a bee which was encased in amber which was dated at between 25 and 40 million years old. These bacteria were found in a state of suspended animation. They had to be reanimated in the laboratory. In scientific terms they were in what we would call a crypto-biotic state. It means the cells remained alive but none of the life processes were being carried out. They didnít feed or reproduce so whether you consider this as immortality or not is open to question.
To answer the question, the sad fact is that all cells do decompose with time. All cells age and all cells eventually die so sadly, as yet no life form has evolved that is immortal.
Atrox could also be describing cloning.
Pardon my rudeness, but that looks like a micropenis! chris, Wed, 16th Jul 2008
The shrunken dormant tardigrade above reminded me of the Clyde Auditorium...
How long are those tardigrades supposed to live for then? chris, Thu, 17th Jul 2008
Another contender for the worlds hardiest organism is "Conan the Bacterium"...
Interestingly I interviewed a terrific scientist called Miroslav Radman who published a paper a couple of years back in which he explained how this bacterium manages to survive in corned beef tins that have been irradiated with a dose of ionising radiation sufficient to kill a human many times over. That's why it was called Deinococcus radiodurans when it was first identified about 50 years ago.
Professor Radman working with radiation is fair example of so-called nominative determinism, these are better...
No all earth life and indeed the whole universe is subject to relentless entropy anttend to dissapate into total disorder over time.
The longest living clone plant is almost 5 times older that Norway spruce. It's Lomatia tasmanica, common name "Kingís lomatia" named after Denny King who discovered it. It's found in Tasmania, Australia. See
So in theory, if I take a cutting of my houseplant every 20 years and pass the new clone(s) down the generations under the same circumstances, could my plant live indefinetly? tr1, Thu, 2nd Oct 2008
Yes, I think so.
I'm honestly surprised that no one has brought up HeLa cells (immortal cancer cells that many labs have used for research). Yes, they aren't technically alive in the normal sense of the word but the cancer cells can divide an unlimited number of times without any signs of stopping. ouabache, Fri, 3rd Oct 2008
An old topic, but I found something quite interesting that is relevant.
Not found yet,although slight change in definition of "life" may let us include microbes and virus in the list. ramtarun, Mon, 22nd Dec 2008
i'd just read a book about the quantum physics and some other theories concerning about that, i read an interpretation called 'Many-worlds interpretation'(also known as 'parallel universe theory', 'multiverse'). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-worlds_interpretation
Some are, perhaps?
Just for fun, let's add the spiritual to the question 'are some life forms immortal?' As usual, a state of self-consciousness has to be a part of the question when the spiritual realm is added... When the biological entity dies and 'goes the way of all flesh' and returns to dust, is there a post-mortal consciousness that persists beyond the mortal body? If so, then the original question of effectively immortal becomes more speculative when taken beyond this mortal coil. So here is another questions: Do human clones have separate souls? Of course the answer is yes, cf. identical twins as separate but equal. Do self-conscious animals (gorillas, dogs, grey parrots, elephants, humans, etc) have souls? Self-consciousness doesn't necessarily imply souls, I think. And yet, the last great commandment made by Jesus before his Ascension was to preach the gospel to every creature. Why, if souls are only for humans? Do dogs go to heaven? Well, heaven without dogs, cats, etc would not be much of a heaven for me. Freeholder, Tue, 30th Dec 2008
Hybridomas, although not entire organisms, are essentially immortal. They are myeloma cancer cells that are fused with plasma cells and are used in creating monoclonal antibodies for use as reagents. darkmartheight, Sat, 3rd Jan 2009
What about hydra? AFAIK there is no increase in mortality with age. There's also that jellyfish which can revert to a younger state. HeLa cells might count too. Anonymous, Thu, 26th Feb 2009
Yes, those darned Jellyfishes again. First they take over the oceans, and then us.
Will you be the conductor?
First of all, nothing at all is immortal, and accordingly, the terminology must be reduced to 'long lasting'. After all, the sun will eventually die. In addition, I would exclude clones as a form of long lasting life. They are nothing more then recreated or reproduced life that has already or will soon die a separate death. It simply does not matter the genetics are the same.
The bristlecones are indeed the oldest living trees. There are trees at least 4300 years old. The publicly shown trees are that old. There are trees in the 4800 year old range that are not revealed to the public. Other old trees include the giant sequoia. These trees are old and appear to die from falling over before they die of old age.
All living creature have to die. Nothing is immortal. The creature like amoeba is immortal, cause it reproduce through binary fission. Among plants mostly those which reproduce through vegetative propagation rarely comes to existence. mystyle, Wed, 27th Jan 2010
Physical immortality is antithetical to sexual biology and the process of evolution. While immortality may sound great from an individual ego-based standpoint, it would represent an eventual death sentence for the human race. Our race, and indeed any sophisticated organism on Earth, uses evolution as a means to react to the changing environment and insure species survival. Random genetic experiments crop up in every generation. Most convey no advantage or are an active detriment to survival. As such, the alterations eventually disappear from the genome. However, periodically a genetic mutation gives the inheritor an important advantage which allows it to mate and spread the new genetic variant. Thusly, life faces the trials and tribulations that are present on our ever changing planet! PLEASE REMEMBER! The survival of any individual animal or plant is of no significance in the Grand Universal scheme of life. We're in it for the species, children! Immortality would undoubtedly place any such cursed species at a major evolutionary disadvantage. Even assuming sterility wasn't a side effect of a substantially extended or immortal lifetime, it's well known that longer lived life forms have fewer offspring space further apart. Fewer offspring means substantially lengthened time between generations and inhibits any organism's ability as a species to react to changes in the environment, new diseases etc. Indeed, many of the species that have gone extinct in the last 100 years fall into this slow-adaptor category. They just couldn't evolve fast enough to cope with the rapidly changing environment caused by humanity and our spread across the globe. The polar bear is probably doomed for instance, but I wouldn't wait around for the house fly or mosquito to follow suit! There's a reason scientists like using fruit flies and mice for genetic experiments. One of these reasons is how fast they multiply and evolve in responses to their environment. In fact, if it ever came down to a wager, I'd place money on the fruit flies, mice, and the infamous cock roach on outlasting homo sapiens sapiens as a species any day of the week! Yes, millions of these tiny individuals die every day, but their rapid evolution promotes their survival as a healthy species. Lastly, of course, would be the ghastly societal effects of widespread human immortality. Starvation, war, and social and economic anarchy would be the inevitable result. For the sake of humanity, let's keep physical immortality in the realm of science fiction and vampire movies and TV shows! The horror of these programs should be sufficient for anyone! Rick, Sun, 7th Mar 2010