Can We Avoid Aging? Sea Urchins Can!

One of the major issues that mankind always had is that aging seems to be inevitable. But the reality is that there are some creatures, like sea urchins, that manage to adapt and avoid aging in a variety of ways. For example, they are regrowing their feet and spines in case they get damaged, not to mention that some of these species live year after year without any sign of aging or loss of body repair capabilities. Even reproduction seems to be unaffected by old age in the case of sea urchins.

James A. Coffman, an MDI Biological Laboratory Associate Professor studies the regenerative process of sea urchins so that he can better understand why we age and sea urchins don’t. This is interesting to track especially since humans and sea urchins do have a very interesting and close relationship from a genetic standpoint. In a recently published work in the journal “Aging Cell”, he and co-author Andrea G. Bodnar from the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Studies state that the physical decline you can find with aging isn’t something we can’t avoid, especially if you study sea urchins.

Of course, there are multiple types of sea urchins. The red sea urchin (Mesocentrotus franciscanus) has a life expectancy of 100 years, while the purple one (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) living for 50 years and the variegated one (Lytechinus variegatus) living for only 4 years. But the differences between their life expectancy don’t have anything to do with their regenerative capacity which is nothing short of interesting. Instead, it’s a characteristic of that specific species. According to Coffman the sea urchins aren’t aging at all, even if some of them are indeed short lived. These findings are contradicting most of the knowledge we have about our body’s regenerative abilities and it clearly manages to make us wonder if we can harness such a capability.

The MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine is focused specifically on studies related to increasing the lifespan as well as tissue regeneration. Their main focus is to transform the ideas they discover into cures. They study a multitude of organisms in order to find valid ways of regenerating tissues and repairing them.

The theory we agree on is that aging is a side effect of genes with increasingly harmful expressions as the organism gets closer and closer to maturity and in particular after reproduction. But what Coffman and Bodnar found is that even the variegated sea urchin which has a very low life expectancy doesn’t seem to suffer any issue with its regenerative capacity. What we can see from here is that the idea of senescence might not be fully tied with a shorter life expectancy.

There are plans for more studies on this matter, especially on how the sea urchins are maintaining their regenerative capability despite being short lived. Another focus of this research will be on maintaining the body functions despite having an old age through help from the immune system. There might be chances to better understand how we can maintain our body functions at a youth state, but only time and a lot of research might be able to offer us the answer!