You know lobsters from TV documentaries, school biology books and restaurant menus. You may know that they can grow up to be pretty big and that they are delicious. You might also have seen a bizarre fact about them floating on the internet – lobsters do not age and are pretty much immortal. Is this true? Can humans learn a trick or two from the good old lobster?
The word “immortal” is, of course, wrong. We know that because lobster are dead when we eat them. However, we are talking about death from old age here. Many pages on the internet say that lobsters do not age and never die from old age. This means that in perfect conditions they could pretty much live forever. And that’s just not true.
The reason why people think that is because lobsters hardly age. When most of other animals become weaker, slower and infertile with age, lobsters grow bigger, stronger and are more fertile in later stages of life. This is because of the process called telomerase.
Telomerase is a process of repairing telomeres – these tiny little endings of chromosomes. As we age, telomeres become shorter and shorter, which makes it more difficult for the genetic material to be read correctly. Telomerase for us and most of animals happens only during embryonic stages. Meanwhile for lobsters telomerase never ends, which means that they basically do not age. And that’s crazy.
However, lobsters never stop growing. Because they have a hard exoskeleton, they need to moult to be able to grow. As lobsters grow bigger and bigger, it becomes more and more difficult to moult. 10-15 % of lobsters die while moulting due to exhaustion. And so at some point lobsters stop moulting, because it is impossible to get rid of that thick exoskeleton without dying of exhaustion. That old exoskeleton deteriorates, caves in and the lobster dies. Normally lobster live 45-50 years in the wild, which is a fairly long life, but not an infinitive amount of years.
Humans don’t have an exoskeleton. If we could somehow borrow telomerase from lobsters, we lived longer and healthier lives. Scientists are looking into it, but so far nothing groundbreaking has been achieved in that area.
There are other animals that do not age. For example, Ocean quahog clam can live hundreds and hundreds of years and we cannot detect any signs of biological aging. Hydras also can live and divide without slowing down to aging. There are other examples too, but it is highly unlikely that humans will learn to harvest these abilities. At least not in the foreseeable future.
For now it is enough that you know that lobsters do die after reaching a certain age. Their mode of dying due to age is different from ours, but they certainly cannot live forever regardless of conditions.