This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 29, 2012
An earlier version of this article misstated the title of Charles Darwin’s classic book on the subject of evolution. It is “On The Origin of Species,” not “On the Origin of the Species.”
Today the outermost twigs and buds of the Tree of Life are occupied by mammals and birds, while at the base of the trunk lie the most primitive phyla — Porifera (sponges), Platyhelminthes (flatworms), Cnidaria (jellyfish).
The mystery of life is not concealed in the higher animals,” Kubota told me. “It is concealed in the root. And at the root of the Tree of Life is the jellyfish.
Hydrozoans, he suggests, may have made a devil’s bargain. In exchange for simplicity — no head or tail, no vision, eating out of its own anus — they gained immortality.
As an aside, the article is littered with painful other statements like
It is possible to imagine a distant future in which most other species of life are extinct but the ocean will consist overwhelmingly of immortal jellyfish, a great gelatin consciousness everlasting.
You might expect that biotech multinationals would vie to copyright its genome; that a vast coalition of research scientists would seek to determine the mechanisms by which its cells aged in reverse; that pharmaceutical firms would try to appropriate its lessons for the purposes of human medicine; that governments would broker international accords to govern the future use of rejuvenating technology. But none of this happened.
He cited this as an example of a phenomenon he calls the Small’s Rule: small-bodied organisms are poorly studied relative to larger-bodied organisms. There are significantly more crab experts, for instance, than hydroid experts.