Biological Immortality

Male and female red lobsters (illustration by Francis Hobart Herrick via Wikimedia Commons)
Adult lobsters by Francis Hobart Herrick (illustration from Wikimedia Commons)

Did you know that there’s such a thing as biological immortality?  That the mortality rate in some species does not increase with age?

Most plants and animals experience senescence, an age-related functional deterioration that also occurs on the micro scale. Cells progressively lose their ability to divide and grow properly. Humans know all about this.

There are some notable exceptions to this rule including hydras, a species of jellyfish, planarian flatworms and lobsters.

Lobsters achieve biological immortality by expressing telomerase through most of their tissue, even as adults. Telomerase is the enzyme that repairs the DNA sequences at the ends of the chromosomes (telomeres) so that when a cell divides it doesn’t lose any information.  Human fetuses have telomerase but we don’t have it as adults.  Lobsters always have it so they never age.

Despite their immortality, predation or an accident can end a lobster’s life.  

Accidents come to mind because …

[Seven years ago] On Tuesday November 25, 2014, just before 4:00pm, my husband was hit by a car while he crossed Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill. He was in a crosswalk! And the car had a stop sign!  He sustained 9 broken ribs on his right side, a broken nose, bruises, a concussion and a partially collapsed right lung. After six days in UPMC Presbyterian Hospital, first in the ICU then in the trauma wing, he came home on 1 Dec 2014 for the long, painful, healing process.  Fortunately his injuries were not worse. We are thankful that by May 2015 he had fully recovered. The broken bones healed fast. The concussion took months to heal.
[16 Dec 2021: Seven years later, my husband is fine with no lasting effects.]

In an accident, it doesn’t matter if you’re biologically immortal.

Note: This article was originally published on 2 December 2014, then updated in 2021. Most of the comments were posted in 2014.

(illustration by Francis Hobart Herrick via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

30 thoughts on “Biological Immortality

  1. Wow! I’m sorry to hear this, yet at the same time am glad to hear he is home and healing. I pray for his speedy, full recovery.

    I suddenly lost my older sister a couple weeks ago due to a surgical procedure that went terribly bad. This has been hard for my brother and me.

    At 60, I know much of my life here on earth is spent and so I no longer take for granted each and every new day I have. I’m very thankful each new day and that my health is still pretty good. The eyes, ears, fingers and toes are all still in pretty good order.

    Life is a great gift and I’m more grateful for it each new day I receive.

    Again my prayers for your husband’s full recovery and you standing by him.


    1. Thank you, Gene. So sorry to hear about your sister. Gosh, we are so mortal. Yes, life is a great gift.

  2. Kate,
    I’m terribly sorry to hear that, but glad that his injuries weren’t worse. We know someone who was hit in a crosswalk on Murray also, but much more seriously injured. Thankfully, he is almost fully recovered. We’ll keep you and your husband in our prayers and wish him a speedy recovery.

    Mary Ann

  3. KATE! I am so sorry to hear about your husband…but I’m glad that he’s is doing ok, and is on the road to healing! Positive thoughts and prayers to both of you!


  4. Kate!!!! I am so sorry to hear of your husbands accident. I will keep his complete recovery in my prayers. I know we all hear that we should live each moment etc…but how many of us really do. Things like this really make us more aware. …
    Know that we all are sending support to the both of you. You fill us every day…we can do the same for you.

  5. We’re so sorry to hear this Kate. You must have been on an emotional rollercoaster the past week. You can’t even make him laugh to cheer him up. Our thoughts are with you for a complete recovery. Doug & Judi.

  6. Oh, Kate, your poor hubby! Yow, 9 broken ribs! Do NOT make him laugh, and pray that he doesn’t have to sneeze or cough…. Just out of curiosity, was the driver ticketed? Or maybe thrown under the jail? Keeping y’all in my prayers.

  7. Sorry to hear Kate….hope he is doing better each day…..being “retired” gets filled up with other things….glad you were able to be with him…prayers for quick healing…will there be therapy too?

  8. One bad thing and 86 blessings. I told him to embrace the meds… It’s your job to get him sober once the pain is gone! I can imagine a poem with a lobster in it later.

  9. So very sorry to hear about the incident. We consider Rick part of the poetry & library community & wish him a speedy recovery. We’ll have to keep him stocked with poetry books!

    1. Beth, the library has already been part of his recovery. I checked out a book to read to him in the hospital.

  10. Kate, I am so sorry to hear this, and so glad that he is on the mend. I was hit while on my bicycle years ago by a driver who ignored a stop sign. It’s a terrible feeling when your world is turned upside down in a split second. My best to both of you as he continues the healing process.

  11. Your poor husband — what a terrible thing. In a crosswalk with a stop sign – – hard to believe. It IS a good thing it wasnt worse, but NINE broken ribs — I cant imagine. The pain of it. Did they catch the person? Good thing you’re retired now, Kate — he’ll need you.

  12. Kate:
    I’ve been away, and just learned of Rick’s unfortunate accident. Wishing for a
    thorough and speedy (will seem like an eternity) recovery. Any roses in the skunk
    cabbage patch ? None really. But, at least it’s not the first 2- weeks of May. Hope
    to see you at Wissy meeting.

  13. Kate,
    My sincere prayers for Mr. St. John’s complete and swift recovery.
    If I may suggest, keep a feeder or two outside his window for tranquil and uplifting viewing while he passes the time as he heals. 🙂

  14. I am glad your husband is okay and recovering. Those injuries can be scary. My nephew has similar injuries about 12 years ago.

    Take care.


  15. KATE — Now I’m waiting breathlessly for the 30-minute web-o-mercials for my “free sample” of telomerase.

    But seriously……I hope things are proceeding reasonably well. Let me know if you can use some help or just a visit. — FRITZ

    1. Thanks, Fritz. Rick is going through what the doctors expect. He certainly feels better than he did the day after the car hit him, but it is certainly a slow recovery process.

  16. Kate,

    It was wonderful to get your letter. I am sending all of my good vibes your way. Please let me know about Rick’s poetry readings this winter. Happy holidays! Best, Lydia

  17. Kate
    I’m sorry to hear about Rick’s accident. He is in my prayers for a speedy recovery. Take care and God Bless.

  18. Oh Kate, I’m sorry I didn’t see this blog sooner! Maybe Rick was feeling a little like the squirrel that Redtail Hawk caught on Neville St….I hope he continues to recover and becomes more comfortable soon.
    i like the idea of a “lobster poem” in Rick’s future (previous comment). Knowing they are, potentially, immortal may give me pause about steaming one next summer. Kinda upps the ante of predation…

  19. Kate
    I hope your husband makes a full recovery. I thank him for giving you so much time to inform us about so much in our amazing Outdoors.
    All the best. Steve

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