Thursday, 18 August 2011

A Flourishing, Pandemic Laugh of Immortality

The Turritopsis nutricula, is a particular kind of hydrozoan (a jellyfish). Hydrozoans in the adult sexually mature stage are jellyfishes; they produce eggs and sperm, which spawn embryos, growing into larvae, which subsequently form a colony of polyps. The colony grows as a stolon, let’s say image a coral. The polyps produce asexually the medusa, which when adult will start again the cycle. Medusas normally have a very short life-span. Not so for our Turritopsis. Our hero is able to grow into the adult stage. And back! Yes, under specific (adverse) circumstances, the Turritopsis can reverse, “un-age” from the medusa status to the polyps. And it has been observed that it can do it many, many times. So, even if the mortality is still present for predatory or disease, the Turritopsis won’t die of senescence. This is pure, 100 % biological immortality, on the rocks.

From species to individuals, now our delirious parade will come to Pando. Pando is…how to definite him( he is a male…of course)? Pando is a joyful, enthusiastic, rascal of his kind. He is, give it or take it, 80 000 years old, but some estimate he could be even 1 million years old. I don’t dare to image the birth candles. Especially because Pando is a tree. Ok, I’m not a botanist, so they will definitely prefer to call it: Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides). Our friend as a system of roots that can be dated as back as 80 000, though the average age of his trunk is 130 years. Pando could live so long for a coincidence of lucky (clearly…) events: frequent forest fires have prevented its main competitor, conifers, from colonizing the area, and climate change, transitioning from a wet and humid weather pattern to semi-arid, has obstructed widespread seedling establishment and the accompanying rivalry from younger aspens. Now just a pinch to the most zealots of the Darwinians: this is fitness for what? When your individual survives one or maybe more or even all the glacial period of the quaternary??? You’re clearly quite fit if you are 1 million, but in these case is the environment adapting to fit the longevity of Pando!

After the flourishing, the pandemic. Epidemics are infectious diseases are the resulting infection for the presence and growth of pathogenic biological agentis in an individual organism.

Buddhism occurred for the first time in India, around, say 5th century BCE. It then spread to the whole sub-continent and from there, to the South-East. For many reasons, the benign epidemic gradually disappeared from India. But before that, many blessed vectors made it to China. Around say the 1st century BCE or even a hundred years before. Then, around say the 7th century CE, China truly “liberated” Tibet ( Time is a toy of a tinker boy, as uncle Heraclitus always said) bringing the golden breeze of enlightenment to the mountains.

I suppose you are ready for the morale now. I’ll try my best, so it goes: you’ve seen that immortality is a strange fish in the pod and that sometimes is easy to bark to the wrong tree of longevity. You also observed that not necessarily every contagion is pathogen (and that not everything that is coming from China to Tibet has bad intentions).We talked about medusa going back to polyps, that is to say an old granny coming back as a child; we entertained ourselves with the story of how roots can deploy themselves underground for thousands of years here and there, and we DIDN’T bother us with too many philosophical questions (is it the same tree? Are they clones of the same individual, identical, but distinctive? A conceptual colony can still be referred under one name?). We didn’t.

I hope you enjoyed this Carnivalesque parade of concepts…because clearly you got that there is symbolism going here. I mean... one thing is winking to the other, you got the subtleties…

Ah ah ah, I’m joking, I’m not German enough, I’m not Colonel Landa, there is no symbolism at all. There is just a jellyfish, a tree, a sneeze. And China as usual invading Tibet (I know that time was for good…). There is nothing else. As usual, there is nothing else. There is nothing!

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