The Planarian Flatworm: A Gateway to Human Immortality?

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Immortality: It’s Here Already!

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Immortality is already here… but only if you are a certain species of jellyfish!
Now we’re not talking Portuguese Man-o-War giant jellyfish, but Turritopsis nutricula which weighs in at a mere 5mm in length. It has the ability to revert its cells back to their earliest form and start growing anew. Over and over again. This usually happens in response to a crisis, but scientists have seen this occur repetitively. Just imagine if we could revert back to being a new-born babe in response to a crisis such as learning that you’re going to get the sack from work, you’ve got rising damp in the downstairs kitchen, or, best of all, you’ve been told you’ve got a rare disease and only weeks to live!
The tiny creature was discovered in the Mediterranean Sea in 1883, but its unique ticket to immortality through regression and then  regeneration was not known until the mid-1990s.
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If a mature Turritopsis is threatened and this can include  receiving actual injury or lack of food and starvation,  it attaches itself to a surface in warm ocean waters and converts itself  into a micro-blob. From that state, its cells undergo “transdifferentiation”,  transforming into different types of cells. Muscle cells can become sperm or eggs, or nerve cells can change into muscle cells. This is something never before seen in the animal kingdom, and may be the only creature capable of doing this.
Is every Turritopsis immortal and death-defying? No. Before they are mature adults, they can die of injury, disease, being eaten by predators,  or starvation  without having the ability to revert back to a blob, regenerate and save themselves. Even after maturation, they can still die through an instant trauma, such as being eaten, washed up out of the sea, or sucked into a cargo-ships tanks and poisoned. But if there’s enough warning and the environment itself isn’t hostile, then hey-presto- transdifferentiation and a new phase of life begins, which can be repeated ad nauseum.
The trick of course is to see if the mini-jellyfish DNA is compatible with other animals, and eventually humans. For now, we’ve just got to look after ourselves, and take it on the chin and carry on whenever we encounter crises!
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Will l Live to be 200?

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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.

Larry Ellison

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!

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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!

 

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The Secret to Longer, Healthier and Happier lives? 20% Less Food!

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In a recent study by Harvard Medical School, which used data going back to the 1970s, Professor of medicine Francine Grodstein concluded that “diet makes a difference”. Plain and simple.

Francine Grodstein

Francine Grodstein

“The higher our body weight and body mass index, the less likely we are to live older, happier, healthier lives,” she said.

Well you may have preferred to hear about a breakthrough in a longevity magic bullet, or transferring DNA from animals that live for over 150 years to humans, but there’s no getting away from it. If you reduce your food intake by just a fifth, you will live a longer life.  This has been shown in animals too- reducing bodyweight by 20% in mice increased their lifespans.

William Mair

William Mair

William Mair, HSPH assistant professor of genetics and complex diseases, said a study that has gained a lot of attention found that reducing body weight by 20 percent in mice increased their longevity. It is even true for insects such as the fruit fly.

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By cutting down our food intake and body mass, we won’t live forever, but the quality of life should be better for longer. In other words all the morbidities that can afflict us will be pushed back to the last years of our lives.

Turning to avoiding mental disease, a promising area in warding off dementia involves taking up a personal challenge such as learning to play an instrument or to speak another language, said Thomas Perls, a Boston University professor of medicine and director of the New England Centenarian Study. However building up these mental functional reserves that seem to stave off or delay dementia don’t seem to apply to everyone. The brainiest most mentally advanced people can still succumb to dementia.

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‘Shrooms Prove Previous Lives

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Don’t try this at home!  Researchers have been conducting controlled experiments using volunteers and the fairy-tail red and white mushroom, the Fly Agaric.

Given in small quantities, many of those interviewed experienced memories they had forgotten about, usually associated with their early childhood. Playground incidents, seeing a steam train for the first time, a Christmas unwrapping… Many of those interviewed swore that these were genuine memories unlocked by the ‘shroom.

The next stage of the experiment was to increase the amount of the mushroom given to the volunteers. This had to be undertaken under strict medical supervision because too much Fly Agaric and the mouth and throat could become numb, and close due to anaphalactic shock. A proportion of those who had the higher dose of mushroom reported memories that were not of their childhood, and were not of their existing lives at all. They wrote down what they had “remembered” and were then interviewed by psycho-analysts to test the veracity of their memories. They all appeared to be genuine and not manufactured.

Researchers are preparing a report to publish but have already claimed that the mushroom has unlocked memories of previous existences that were locked and retained in some immortal part of the soul- it could not be the brain because the brain and body dies and rots. However the theory is that like a cloud-based IT application, upon being re-born, your characteristics from previous lives are re-loaded into your body as you develop in the womb. However the memories from previous lives are not normally accessible and are screened out. But the Fly Agaric mushroom stimulates a small part of the brain where these past-life memories are normally concealed.

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Could this be evidence that we are immortal and have lived previous lives? The research is being peer-reviewed before publishing, and a number of volunteers are repeating the experiment to confirm the results.

But don’t try this yourselves. The Fly Agaric is a poisonous mushroom, and this experiment could only be conducted under strictly controlled medical conditions.

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“Turning off” bad Genes in Cells Could Prolong Life and Cure Cancers

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You know the old saying; you wait ages for a bus and then three come along together? It seems we wait ages for scientific advances in one field or another and suddenly there are a plethora of papers, breakthroughs, new ideas and innovations. In the field of longevity, anti-ageing and even immortality the last year has been a bumper one- and it looks like it’s going to continue into 2014. Perhaps we are about to see some real advances in the next five years? We’ve seen naked mole rat DNA, stem cell stimulation to prevent ageing, and now there’s another declaration: Don’t purchase that life assurance plan just yet!

The spotlight shifts to Israel’s Tel Aviv University where researchers have developed a computer algorithm that predicts which genes can be switched off to create the same anti-ageing effect as calorie restriction.  The findings of the research were reported recently  in the leading journal on biology and associated fields; “Nature Communications. . The findings and research, if built upon, could lead to the development of new drugs to treat ageing.

Traditional  research in this field has looked for ways to kill off bad cells, such as cancer cells. Chemotherapy and radiation are ways to treat cancerous cells and stop them multiplying. But they involve the destruction of the cells, which can leave a patient invalided or unable to perform certain functions that they could before the cancer took hold. The new research looks at ways of transforming a diseased cell into a healthy one. No steamhammer to crack a walnut, but a subtle terraforming of a cell from being a bad’ un to being a good ‘un.

Prof Ruppin

This may seem similar to other recent discoveries, but the Tel Aviv laboratory of Professor Eytan Ruppin (pictured above) is a leader in this growing field of something called “genome-scale metabolic modeling” or GSMMs.  Ruppin and his researchers use mathematical equations and computers, to understand how GSMMs describe the metabolism, or life-sustaining, processes of living cells. Without getting too technical the algorithm MTA can take information about any two metabolic states and predict the environmental or genetic changes required to go from one state to the other. Such as diseased or non-functioning, to restored and active. “Gene expression” is the measurement of the expression level of individual genes in a cell, and genes can be “turned off” in various ways to prevent them from being expressed in the cell.

The study used yeast.  And the algorithm predicted how old yeast could be made to look like new yeast.  Why yeast? Because it is the most widely used genetic model as so much of its DNA is preserved in humans. Now you know!

By turning off two genes in real yeast, the researchers found that the yeast’s lifespan could be extended, significantly. By up to nearly a third. While currently there is no way to verify the results in humans, many of these crucial genes are known to extend lifespan in not only yeast, but worms, and mice. That’s where the research will go next- tests on mice.

The glittering prize at the end of this road would be an extended lifespan for we humans, and for finding cures for metabolic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders and of course, the big one, cancer. And maybe extending skin life so that you need never worry about wrinkles, crow’s feet and a saggy neck!

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Ingested Sensors are Coming!

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Just as “wearable technology” is becoming “de rigeur”, with cameras in hats, wrist watch internet computers, and sensor/computer glasses with built in sat-nav, be prepared for the next logical step: under-skin technology.  Yep,  while it may seem like it has come from a Michael Crichton sci-fi story, we will soon all be able to have sensors and micro-chips inside out bodies. For some people it’s here already. Think pacemakers for those with heart disease; the latest models can be scanned by clinicinas to access information about how the assisted heart is performing.

Picture courtesy bc.co.uk

Picture courtesy bc.co.uk

“We are going to see more sensors everywhere. It’s only a matter of time before those migrate under our skin into our bodies,” said Peter Eckersley, the lead technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (photo below).

Peter Eckersley

But with advances in miniaturisation, data collection, storage and access, it’s probably only round the corner when a tiny probe in the body could supply you and your doctors with a mass of information about your body’s functions. Clearly this would have great advantages in helping to treat chronic illnesses. You could go to your own PC or lap-top and allows it to pick up from your body-sensor relevant information about your condition, and send it via the internet to a clinician who can  monitor the real-time information and let you know what’s happening and why within your own body. No more having to go in to a hospital and wait to be hooked up to a machine.

The types of information that can be collected from ingested sensors include how the patient’s body reacts to drug regimes, the patient’s dose timing and other physiological responses like heart rate, activity levels and skin temperature. In ten years’ time, some experts are saying that a third of people in developed countries could have sensors inside their bodies, either temporarily or permanently.

However as with any new breakthrough, there could be side effects- not those that affect your health, but those that affect you pocket. Could you imagine a time when health insurance companies refuse to give you beneficial premiums unless you are prepared to have ingested sensors and permit the companies to have access, and perhaps even own, the data about your own body? How would the privacy protectors feel about that?

With new advances in technology it’s important that there are similar advances in responsibility for making sure that the advances are used only for the benefit of mankind, and that by allowing a mini-probe to be sited within you, you have not surrendered your individuality, privacy and soul to others!

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The Naked Mole Rat: The Key to Increasing the Human Life-span?

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The naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber)  is an unappealing un-cuddly subterranean rodent with wrinkled hairless skin, virtually blind, and large sharp curved upper and lower incisors. It lives all its life below the surface of the earth, has never seen or felt the sun, and often lives in toxic conditions with the sort of lack of oxygen and CO2 concentrations that would kill all other mammals.

For its size, its life-span should be 2-3 years.  For all other mammals the life size is related too size, so the bigger the mammal the longer they live- ergo elephants and whales. But the mole rat lives to a ripe old age of 30 plus. Not only that, a mole rat has never been found that has had cancer, and is almost impervious to disease. It also doesn’t age. A 6 month old Mole Rat looks no different from one in its final year. It is also impervious to pain.

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Scientists are studying the mole rat to see if they can find anything in its make-up, DNA, life-style, diet or lack of exposure to the outside world that makes it such a survivor. If the replication of the naked mole rat characteristics could be harnessed and applied to humans we could expect to live up to 6 times longer than now, without ageing- that’s nearly 500 years!

One just hopes that it doesn’t require us to shave all our skin every day,  live underground, and feed on a  diet of plant tubers!

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The Kraken Wakes…

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..or at least seems to be in the news a lot this year.  There have been tales of ships pulled down to their watery doom by a kraken; a sort of octopus/squid/whale hybrid of massive proportions- as visualised in the Pirates of the Caribbean-

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Could it have been that a dinosaur-sized aquatic creature survived the meteor that wiped out its landlubber cousins and survived through to the ascent of man, occasionally plaguing their ocean-crossings?

Professor Mark McMenamin, a paleontologist at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, thinks so. He claims to have discovered markings on the remains of sea creatures which proves that an ancient, giant species of octopus – like the mythical Kraken – was behind their demise, and supports the claims of human mariner survivors to have witnessed ships succumbing to its tentacled overtures.

Prof McMenamin says his evidence of the Kraken, which would have been up to 100 feet long, comes from the vicious injures it inflicted on the giant marine dinosaur reptile ichthyosaurus, either by drowning the creature or snapping its neck. He claims he can tell by examining the placement and sucker markings on bones.

The Professor also noticed, because of the arrangement, that they had been carried away from where they were killed, leading him to think they had been dragged to the Kraken’s lair and dumped in the pattern of the mysterious creature’s tentacles in what is known as a ‘midden’ – a pile of remains accumulated by the beast.

Could the Kraken still exists? In another report, a few months ago, scientists filmed the first video of a live giant squid swimming some 2,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. The footage was shown on the Discovery Channel and is due to be repeated over this Christmas and the New Year.

Image: Still image taken from video shows a giant squid near Ogasawara islands

The largest squid ever caught was 55 foot long (see photo below). The one filmed (see above) was at least 100 foot long. While something that size may not be able to pull an ocean-going galleon down to its doom, a smaller craft such as a dingy or small yacht may not be safe from its suckered embrace!

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The Lightning Conductors

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They say lightning never strikes the same place twice – and we all may think that’s probably not true- but how about lightning striking a person twice?  Very rare, yes? Three times? Unheard of??  Four times? No No No!  You’d be forgiven for thinking that you must be some kind of human lightning conductor, Does he wear metallic underwear and walk around in the open with a large metal rod in the air, with a T-shirt saying “strike me again-I dare you!”

The country is South America, and the man has been treated in hospitals there for four separate lightning strikes to his body. And he’s still alive to tell the tale. But unsurprisingly he tends not to go out in thundery weather…

While we’re on about acts of God- well, Mother Nature- what about the time when an entire Congolese Football Team was killed while playing a game. Even more startling was that the opposing team went back to the changing rooms unscathed. Perhaps it was something to do with their rubber-soled Adidas soccer boots?  Kinshasa daily newspaper L’Avenir said local opinion – known to believe in charms and spells – was divided over whether someone had cursed the team. The two sides were drawing 1-1 in the match in eastern Kasai Province when the lightning struck the visiting team.

Then there’s the incredible report  of a Croatian motorcyclist who got a lightning bolt to the penis while stopping for a roadside pee.  Wow, that must have been some whack-off!

With more people in the world and climate change bringing more electric storms, expect to see more tales of human lightning conductors.

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Reconstruction Of The Biggest Dinosaur That Ever Lived The Earth: The Argentinosaurus

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One of the world’s largest dinosaurs has been digitally reconstructed by experts from The University of Manchester allowing it to take its first steps in over 94 million years.

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Chinese Killer Hornets are Coming!

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Is it a “B” sci-fi/horror movie. Following in the footsteps “The Swarm” and “Attack of the Killer Bees”, we have Chinese Killer Hornets. But this is true and happening now.Vespa Mandarinia - the Asian Giant Hornet- measures no less than 5 centimetres, over twice as large as the largest other hornet. And it’s a killer.  As big as an adult’s thumb.

Yu Yihong in China’s north-western province, was tending his small plot of cabbages and onions when theasian giant hornets struck.  He was attacked and stung and when taken to hospital he had two hornets still in his trousers. The poison causaed his liver and kidneys to fail and he died. His account of his attack, before he died, is horrific. He accidentally trod on a nest of the hornets concealed beneath some corn husks. They swarmed up around him stinging mercilessle and then when he ran a considerable distance away, they refused to let him go and followed him to get their revenge for upsetting their nest.

The sting of this species of hornet dissloves human tissue, and kidney failure or anaphalactic shock often follows. Was this a one-off? No. Attacks by the Asian Giant Hornet are becoming more and more common.  In China’s Shaanxi province, nearly fifty people have been stung to death in just three months. Hundreds of others have suffred stings and injuries due to this hornet.

As with many other woes, the rise of the killer hornets is being blamed on climate change, and a warm winter which allowed many more queens to survive and spread. They can fly much faster than a man can run over a distance; 25mph, and cover 50 miles. Apart from defending their nests they can also be attracted by sweet smells, alcohol or sweat.

As word spreads about the killer hornets, roads and schools have been closed, there are large swathes of no-go areas- farms where crops are unattended because of nearby nests. In retaliation, pest control officers go out at night to sighted nests and exterminate them with… yes, you should have guessed it… flamethrowers! But it seems they are fighting a losing battle and the problem is spreading.

While it may seem not feasible for the Asian Giant Hornet to spread to Europe, its smaller cousin, Vespa Velutina the (non-giant) Asian Hornet has already spread from Korea to France in 2003 and has been responsible for a number of deaths. It has since spread to Spain Belgium and Portugal.

Watch out- this looks like a killer hornet that isn’t going to buzz off any time soon. In one close shave, a quick-thinking worker used his can of butane lighter refil and a lighter to creata a mini flamethrower and keep the hornets at bay.

 

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Bigfoot or Bigcon? “Lair” Discovered

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An abandoned large nest-like structure was discovered in a fairly remote of Arizona, US, a few weeks ago.  It was covered by branches and grass and is believed by some to be a possible home of the legendary Bigfoot.

Bigfoot expert Mitch Waite and his wife discovered and filmed the nest. It’s quite big,  has a narrow entrance and is hollowed inside. The discovery was made in the  Tonto National Forest on the Mogollon Rim. The nest is alleged to be the lair of a relative of Bigfoot-  the Mogollon Monster.
The Mogollon Monster is described as standing seven to ten feet tall, with mostly brown and red hair., and emitting a musky odour by those who have been close to its passing by, or in an area where it has been sleeping or hunting.
The first reported sightings were in the early 1900s and they have continued sporadically every few years ago, with this one being the most recent. The legend of the “Big Hairy Man” or “The Old Man of the Mountain” has been passed down by Apache and Navajo Native American tribes for hundreds of years: Sasquatch.
There are no comments in the reports that the lair might belong to some other large mammal or bird.
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