Monday, October 28, 2013


Would you like to be immortal, live forever? On a more sensible note, would you like to live 1000 years?
Of course it’s not possible today. But see what one scientist has to say on the subject:
“The first human who will live up to 1,000 years is probably already alive now, and might even be today between 50 and 60 years old”.
(Aubrey de Grey – forerunner of anti-aging research, on Television, in 2008. I can't help if his name sounds a little fishy when you pronounce it!)
That would include a lot of us. Are we that close of achieving such a lifespan? We once considered it to be mythological.
The largest lived human being was Jeanne Calment from France. She died in 1997, at an age of 122 years. She met the painter Van Gogh when she was 13 years old, saw the Eiffel Tower being built and did a small role as herself in a movie when she was 114 years old.
Let’s see what we can learn about Lifespan Extension, the word everybody uses.
First we have to understand why we die. Some of us die because of natural causes, like diseases or aging. Some die due to unnatural causes like accidents, violence or suicide. We will consider here only the natural causes, of course.
The biggest natural killer is old age. Age will certainly get you, if nothing else does. But what does aging actually mean?
Aging is not any one thing. It’s a collection of lot of things that are going wrong. Damage to cells, tissues, organs is the most important part of aging.
During most of our life, the cells that make up our various body parts divide to form new cells. This is our body’s way of repairing any damage that occurs. Now, every cell can divide only a certain number of times. After that count, the cell division stops. No further repair takes place.
Damage to important tissues and organs results into death. It is clear then, that to extend our lifespan, we have to overcome aging.
For one, we can postpone aging. We already know a lot about how this can be done. Diet, exercise, healthy lifestyle delay aging. Certain nutrients and supplements are known to restrict the damages. Herbal remedies in ancient sciences like Chinese Medicine and Indian Ayurveda serve the same purpose.
But the postponement of age is limited, and not guaranteed. In order to really overcome aging, we must be able to repair the damage that small and big parts of the body have suffered. Let’s see what knowledge we have in the repair department.
Science has been studying the animals who are good at defying death. One kind of Jellyfish is theoretically immortal. The trick that it plays is simple – it has two phases in its life. When it suffers aging in the second phase, its cells change themselves to go the first phase. It can repeat this cycle indefinitely, but is usually eaten by some fish who is not aware of its scientific significance.
Lobsters are also ageless creatures. They do not slow down, weaken, or lose fertility with age. In fact, older lobsters may be more fertile than younger lobsters. Also, they never stop growing. Lobsters are known to live up to 60 years. Nobody knows what will happen if they are not killed by humans or predators.
A salamander can not only regenerate a limb, but can regenerate the lens or retina of an eye and also the intestine.
These animals are able to repair damages to their body. What if we can emulate them?
Now, to repair the damage, we have to do multiple things. Let’s make a small list, as examples-
- Repair DNA : The genetic code is inside every cell and every time the cell divides, it is copied. As with all copying, this copy also makes errors. The errors are called mutations and some of them are harmful. These mutations need to be found and corrected.
- Clear the junk: Our cells are like factories. They create junk like real factories. This junk has to carried away.
- Fill up cell loss: Some cells die and do not get regenerated. We have to compensate for this loss.
- Kill stubborn cells: Some cells are supposed to stop dividing and die. They do neither. What they achieve is that they stop other cells from dividing too. These cells have to be killed.
- Replace organs: Even after solving cell problems, if organs suffer damage, replace them with organs created from other cells of the same body.
We already have many of the technologies needed. Nanotechnology, Gene Therapy, Organ Cloning are some techniques that are being tried, though none of these is mature yet.
A lot of not-for-profit foundations and for-profit companies are working in this field. The Methuselah Foundation encourages research in anti-aging. It gives a prize to anyone who can stretch the lifespan of a mouse beyond current record. Currently, the prize is 4 million dollars and longest mouse age is 5 years. Recently in the news, Google has announced a new venture California Life Company (or Calico) to solve the challenge of aging.
Many people have serious issues with Lifespan Extension. There are ethical and social debates. What would happen if human beings suddenly start achieving such stupendous lifespan? You can find all this interesting debate on the internet. You better get informed and make up your mind. Who knows, in a few years, we might wake up one day to see a Life+ link on Google home page!

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