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Switzerland

In Swiss Lakes, Scientists Search For The Source Of Immortality

Tiny freshwater hydrae have incredible powers of regeneration. In the quest for human longevity, researchers in Switzerland are trying to learn from their very little and long lives.

The "immortal" hydra
The "immortal" hydra
Nic Ulmi

GENEVA — "Do you want to see the hydrae?" the scientist asks. We know that since Heracles' time the creature has shrunk significantly, so we accept the invitation without too much fear. The Greek hero needed many flaming arrows, as well as the help of his nephew Iolaus, to overcome the Lernaean Hydra and achieve the second of his twelve labours.

What is now called "hydra" is an invertebrate measuring at best 1.5 centimeters. It belongs to the phylum Cnidaria (like jellyfish and corals) and lives in freshwater, including several Swiss lakes. But the one from Greek mythology and the real one share one particularity: They can both regrow a head if it gets severed, or any other part of its body, for that matter. This is in fact why Genevan naturalist Abraham Trembley chose this name for the small animal in 1741.

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