Lobsters have been on Earth for more than 350 million years- proving that there are many lessons to be learned from them as true survivalists (1). Although lobsters live on the ocean floor, in a very different environment than land-bound humans, the lessons can be universal, as described in Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.
Seeing how resilient lobsters have been, much exploration has occurred into similarities between humans and lobsters, with a particular emphasis on neurochemistry. In Peterson’s book, he focuses on these similarities in order to highlight how life lessons learned from lobsters can be applied to human behavior.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter found in both humans and lobsters, which is responsible for behavior and happiness in both organisms. Peterson discusses the behavior of dominant and low-ranking lobsters, which is correlated to neurochemistry that humans share. One study published in 1997 by Huber et. al shows the role of serotonin in lobsters. An injection of the neurotransmitter causes a boost in confidence and willingness to fight other lobsters, despite the low-ranking lobsters previously shrinking away (3). Another study from 2001 by Tierney and Mangiamele looked at other experiments in order to further understand the role of serotonin on lobster behavior, in particular during a fight (4). Low-ranking lobsters have less confidence, which is due to lower serotonin, and droop and back down from fights. Lower serotonin also leads to less happiness as it is due to being more stressed, more prone to illness, and an overall shorter lifespan (1). These low-ranking lobsters are constantly worrying about their future, regarding territory and mating opportunities. On the flipside, those who possess more confidence have higher levels of serotonin, which is associated with more happiness, less prone to illness, and a longer lifespan (1). These high-ranking lobsters are confident in their ability and have less to worry about overall.
Like lobsters, humans facing a hard time display the same posture with drooped posture facing the ground. Dominant lobsters will take up a posture full of confidence, ready to fight and confident in their ability, backed up by the peak of serotonin displayed between fighting lobsters. When humans are facing a challenge, it is important to be a successful lobster, holding the position and ready to face the challenges of life. Based on the knowledge reaped from seeing how dominance and social ranking is correlated to posture and serotonin levels, we see the similarities in neurochemistry between humans and lobsters. Taking the life lesson from lobsters, humans must strive to be the confident high-ranking lobsters who have more serotonin and ultimately a better life.
Although Peterson’s book does not cover longevity but rather focuses on the neuroscience of our crustacean friends, it is important to see what other biological phenomena can be learned from lobsters. It is often said that lobsters are immortal, which is due to their unique ability to continuously produce telomerase throughout their lives. But what is telomerase and why is it important for longevity?
Telomerase is an enzyme that adds nucleotides to telomeres, therefore extending the length of a telomere. A telomere is a region of repetitive nucleotides at the ends of chromosome that are responsible for protection from degradation, but shorten after many rounds of mitosis. The shortening of telomeres has been associated with aging, which is why having telomerase could extend the lifespan of a telomere.
What is unique in lobsters is that there are high levels of telomerase activity, which is why lobsters are often considered immortal. In a 1998 study that was conducted, it was shown that telomerase was detected in all lobster organs, which was correlated with long-term cell proliferation and preventing senescence in adult lobsters, making them unique from other organisms (5).
Humans have low levels of telomerase in somatic cells, but find higher levels of the enzyme in stem cells and cancer cells. With cancer, telomerase can make the malignant cells immortal, which becomes problematic and one of the many reasons why it is hard to design a drug to target cancer. Rather, understanding the regulation of telomerase and its overall effect on a cell have become important for interventions for cancer, such as for gene therapy and immunotherapy. Much still has yet to be learned about telomerase, but it is truly unique regarding lobsters having elevated telomerase activity.
Looking on the bottom of the ocean, one would not see the similarities between humans and lobsters upon first glance, but with closer inspection, there are many lessons to be learned from the resilient creatures. Neurochemistry and longevity are just two lessons to learn and use between humans and lobsters, but there are many more examples of life lessons to be learned from the creatures around us.
- Peterson, Jordan B., et al. 12 Rules for Life: an Antidote to Chaos. A. Lane, an Imprint of Penguin Books, 2018.
- T., Shane, et al. “Emergence of Lobsters: Phylogenetic Relationships, Morphological Evolution and Divergence Time Comparisons of an Ancient Group (Decapoda: Achelata, Astacidea, Glypheidea, Polychelida) | Systematic Biology | Oxford Academic.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 20 Feb. 2014, academic.oup.com/sysbio/article/63/4/457/2847939.
- Huber, Robert, et al. “Serotonin and Aggressive Motivation in Crustaceans: Altering the Decision to Retreat.” PNAS, National Academy of Sciences, 27 May 1997, http://www.pnas.org/content/94/11/5939.
- Tierney, A J, and L A Mangiamele. “Effects of Serotonin and Serotonin Analogs on Posture and Agonistic Behavior in Crayfish.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2001, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11800033.
- Klapper, W, et al. “Longevity of Lobsters Is Linked to Ubiquitous Telomerase Expression.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 13 Nov. 1998, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9849895.