Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Immortality Gene

Is it possible that one day humans could have a greatly extended lifespan and be effectively immortal? There are many scientists who think this is not only possible but will happen during our lifetimes.

Discoveries so far:

  • Telomeres are areas at the end of DNA strands which get shorter as we age and seem to protect the DNA strand as it replicates itself.
  • What was formerly called 'Junk' DNA, seems to protect DNA strands from ionising radiation and oxidising agents.
  • We are under constant attack by viruses. When a cell is infected it usually dies and is replaced but in some cells your DNA is slightly damaged and survives like that. The accumulation of damaged DNA produces the symptoms of aging. Every time you catch a cold - it makes you that little bit older!
  • There's something in young mice blood which rejuvenates old mice. It's absent in the blood of older mice and if removed from young mice, they age quickly.
  • There is an immortality gene. As you get older it seems to be switched off. As our understanding of DNA grows we hope to switch it back on.
  • Foods containing anti-oxidising agents seem to slow down aging.
Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist and the Chief Science Officer of the SENS Research Foundation believes that the first person to live to age 1,000 is alive now.
Even if all the medical research comes to nothing, others believe it will be possible to download a human mind into a computer soon—within the next 25 years. That mind can then control a robotic body which won't have out biological frailties (but will have replaceable mechanical parts).

Either way—what's the point?

No one wants to live a long and unhappy life. Few people want to work forever. Will you get tired of your job and find it becomes a chore? Will you get tired of friends and partners?
In each case we are thinking in 'three score and ten' mentality. We have a fear of getting old.
  • We assume that with age comes infirmity. What if this is not the case?
  • We assume that we'll look older. What if you could revert back to looking age 25 and stay that way?
  • We assume we will have just one career. With a greatly extended lifespan you have time to change careers many times.
  • We assume that we will get tired of partners leading to divorce. There are people in the world who have found the perfect partner and have long and happy marriages. You might now have time to find that person.
  • We assume we'll get bored. With an extended lifespan you have time to learn new skills; time for leisure; time to explore new things.
  • We assume life will be a constant struggle with money. Put away the equivalent of $5.00 per month and by the time you are 1,667 you'll have the equivalent of $100,000 even if you earn no interest. As Albert Einstein famously stated: “Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it... he who doesn’t... pays it.

What is an immortal's lifespan?

Unfortunately it's not forever. Insurance tables tell us that if all other causes of death were removed, you would probably face a fatal accident within 1729 years. Being immortal won't stop that (although downloads might allow you to be resurrected). In any event entropy exists and eventually the stars providing our energy will run down. We'll then face something like Isaac Asimov's short story 'The last question'.
Incidentally did you know my Twitter name is @JChapman1729?

What can we do with immortality?

We can save all life on earth. At the moment we are very vulnerable to extinction level events such as the one which wiped out the dinosaurs. Just because it happened a long time ago doesn't mean it won't happen again. When it happens we and the other large animals are likely to be made extinct.
We're also vulnerable to the sort of impact which created the moon. If another one of those occurred all life on earth would be destroyed. This is the underlying theme of our 'A Vested Interest' book series, the first of which, 'Immortality Gene' is free.
A passing rogue neutron star or wandering black hole will also destroy all life without hitting the earth. It would move the earth out of the 'Goldilocks zone' making life impossible.

Only by creating a colony of life away from earth can we ensure life's survival. Such a colony has to be around a different star and in the absence of faster than light travel, it will take a lot longer than a 'normal' lifespan to get there. We need to construct a habitat in which people can live, play and enjoy their lives. A long term Ark of all lifeforms on earth. Now isn't that a better idea than trying to kill each other?