A planarian is a species one of many non-parasitic flatworms. Planaria are common to many parts of the world, living in both salt-water and in freshwater ponds and rivers. They are remarkable creatures. Some planarians exhibit an extraordinary ability to regenerate lost body parts. For example, a planarian split either lengthwise or crosswise will regenerate into two separate individuals.
Recently, one particular species of planarian, S. mediterranea has emerged as the species of choice for modern molecular biological and genomic research due to its diploid chromosomes and the existence of both asexual and sexual strains. Recent genetic screens utilizing double-stranded RNA technology have uncovered 240 genes that affect regeneration in S. mediterranea. Many of these genes have “Orthologs” in the human genome. Orthologs are genes in different species that evolved from a common ancestral gene by speciation. Normally, orthologs retain the same function in the course of evolution. Identification of orthologs is critical for reliable prediction of gene function in newly sequenced genomes.
The life cycle and traits of planarians make them a model system for investigating a number of biological processes, many of which may well have implications for human health and disease. Even immortality. However, the flatworm’s regeneration ability has attracted a lot of attention. It may pave the way for humans to gain the ability to regenerate lost limbs and perhaps even organs. More recently Planarians are being examined in reserach into ageing. That is because these animals have an apparently limitless regenerative capacity, and the asexual animals seem to maintain their “telomerase” levels throughout their lifetime, making them effectively immortal.
Telomerase is an enzyme, active chiefly in tumours and reproductive cells, that facilitates cell division and may account for the immortality of some cancer cells.
As we humans share a number of genes with Planaria, in theory it may be possible to use the planaria genes in bio-engineering the human body, so that we too can regenerate and have infinite longevity.
A lot of people think there is no chance of celebrating their 100th birthday. But what about their 200th birthday? Inconceivable? Not at all!
Look at some facts: Life expectancy on average was a mere two decades-20 years- a thousand years ago. It leapt to 37 by 1800. Life expectancy is now about 80. Could you add another 120 years to that to make it 200? It is possible.
Increasing life expectancy is big business right now. The very rich don’t want to doe just yet; so people like Larry Ellison (pictured above), Larry Page and Sergey Brin are investing large amounts of their considerable accumulated fortunes into helping them, and us, all live longer.
For those of us who are less than half-way through our lives, assuming we live to 85, we may be planning to retire at 65-70, and then have 15-20 years of retirement before we pop our clogs. But maybe that’s just too pessimistic. And a longer life is now not about being a frail 95 year old in a nursing home. A long, technology-enhanced life could now mean you being fitter and healthier at 150 than you were at 20. Really!
You can seriously increase your chances of living a long life by considering how you can take advantage of upcoming health technologies:
The first thing you have to do is to stay as healthy as possible, with exercise, nutrition and current medicine. Do it now, not tomorrow. Neither the food industry nor the pharmaceutical industry are designed or optimised to benefit life expectancy. They are optimised and designed to deliver the best rewards to shareholders. Choose you food and medicines carefully. Consult your doctor too. He or she should be able to give you advice, or refer you to a nutrition health professional.
The next step is to be ready for DNA reprogramming. Yes, DNA is reprogrammable, just like computers. We can start to programme our bodies away from disease. In the next 10-20 years it is expected that we will be able to re-engineer new body parts. There are literally hundreds of drugs and processes in the pipeline that will modify the course of many of the diseases we face today. Clinical applications now at the cutting edge will be routine in the early 2020s. And cheaper.
Finally be prepared for the Nanotech revolution which will be our ticket to living to 200 years… and beyond. Perhaps immortality. The use of miniscule robots in our bodies to augment our immune system will be technically possible. At the current rate of technological change we are only decades away from achieving these breakthroughs. In essence, this would mean that no disease could kill us.
But accidents and war will still take their toll, unless the human race suddenly changes the way it thinks about its fellow man (and woman). Technology can’t perform miracles!
Let’s imagine (or scroll forward if you think it definitely will happen) we manage to cure ageing, both in the body and in the mind. We have immortality. Nice. But how would we be able to cope with the infinitely accumulating number of memories and things to remember?
Memory is a funny old thing. We do get more forgetful as we get older. Yet we still have retained and lodged forever in our memory certain events, numbers, faces, facts and triggers. Even though brain cells die at a quicker rate as we get older, we must assume that immortality will include the ability for the brain to regenerate itself. So our capacity to think is unimpaired because our brains will remain functioning.
But what of memory? Research indicates that there is a certain part of the brain where memories reside. But it is of a finite size. As more and more experiences and memories are accumulated throughout the centuries and aeons of our immortality, that part of the brain will just become clogged and full and unable to absorb any more information. It would also be difficult if not impossible to recall information because there are so many full rooms,corridors and halls all full of filing cabinets, full of folders, full of papers.
Your brain can keep all that stuff organized for a while (say, the span of most of a normal human lifetime) but it’s not like you can go into your brain and just delete files like cleaning up a hard drive of a computer.
Your immortal life and experiences may be infinite, but your brain’s ability to store and recall them is not. After a relatively short time into your immortality, as early as 300 years old, your brain will be chock-a-block piled up with information/junk like one of the habitual hoarders who can never clean up or throw anything out.
The only possible solution would appear to be to connect to technology that could store, sort and recall all that information- and perhaps delete it to. “Total Recall” anyone? So perhaps at 30o years old plus you’ll be permanently wired in to a data/memory dump/recall system. But your biological brain’s ability to process the information and retain it, would not be expanded once it has received the input from the memory card or whatever. And of course you might forget that you have stored the information remotely and so the whole system falls down again!
Immortality? Not as easy as it sounds!
Gabrielle (Gabby) Williams from Billings, Montana, United States, is 9 years old, but weighs a mere 11 pounds. She has the appearance of an infant and needs constant attention as if she were newborn- having her nappies changed and being fed a number of times each day. Her skin is baby-like and her hair is fine-textured. There has been some slight growth over four decades- she now needs clothes to fit a baby of 3-6 months instead of up to three months.
People with this condition are very rare- scientists haven’t even got a name for it. Only two other people with a similar condition have been found: a 29-year-old Florida man with the appearance of a 10-year-old, and a 31-year-old Brazilian woman who still looks like a three year old.
So far the search for clues as to why these individuals don’t age and what they have in common have not uncovered their secrets.
Dr Richard F Walker (pictured above) has been studying Gabby’s case in the hopes of finding a reason for the arrested growth and perhaps unlock a path to eternal youth and immortality. He is retired from the University of Florida Medical School and now does his research at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.
Dr Walker has called the condition “developmental inertia”. He said that without the process of growth and ageing, a human would never develop and remain stunted and unfulfilled. But if there is a gene responsible for this condition, and it could be identified, isolated and modified, then there is a possibility that the most obvious effects of ageing could be arrested or slowed considerably.
Walker said he believes he has found one of the genes responsible- a mutation on the second female X chromosome. The trick would be to allow growth to a certain level, for example maturity, and then halt further growth and ageing. This “biologically immortality” would not prevent people dying from disease and in accidents. They would not become superheroes.
Gabby’s parents admitted that they were concerned at first that Dr Walker was using their child to find the fountain of youth for vanity purposes, but he explained to them that the research was focused on helping people who struggle with the hardships that come with old age.
Gabby’s mother, Mary, said:
“Alzheimer’s is one of the scariest diseases out there. If what Gabrielle holds inside of her would find a cure — for sure we would be a part of the research project. We have faith that Dr. Walker and the scientific community do find something focused more on the disease of aging, rather than making you 35 for the rest of your life.”
Dr Walker is currently Editor-in-Chief of Clinical Interventions in Ageing, a source of evidence-based information for practitioners of age-management medicine. He also heads a private consulting company providing regulatory and scientific services for physicians and other health-care professionals. Gabrielle Williams’ condition has since been confirmed to have been the result of a genetic mutation. Emulating or stimulating that mutation has, so far, evaded scientists and researchers, including Dr Walker.