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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Immortality. Where to Put all those Accumulating Memories?

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Woman who Died Aged 115 may Hold Secrets to Longevity

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In a new study into advancing the longevity of humans it was found that in the healthy white blood cells of a 115-year-old woman, there were over 400 mutations.

Of course genetic mutations have been linked to diseases such as cancer, but these new findings by researchers suggest that mutations in white blood cells are largely harmless over a lifetime. And may have beneficial effects on ageing. Blood is continually replenished by hematopoietic (meaning “to make blood”) stem cells that are inside our bone marrow and divide to produce different types of blood cells. Cell division can lead to genetic mutations and hundreds of mutations have been found in patients with blood cancers. However, until recently little was known about white blood cells and mutations. Because they weren’t harmful, they weren’t studied.

The woman in the study was the oldest person in the world when she died in 2005 at 115 years old. She is also thought to be the oldest person ever to donate her body to science. The hundreds of mutations identified in her white blood cells appeared to be tolerated by the body and did not cause any disease.

The researchers also found possible new insight into the limits of human longevity, according to the authors of the study published on-line April 23 in the journal Genome Research.

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Lead author Dr. Henne Holstege (pictured below) said in a journal news release:

“To our great surprise we found that, at the time of her death, the peripheral blood was derived from only two active hematopoietic stem cells (in contrast to an estimated 1,300 simultaneously active stem cells), which were related to each other. Because these blood cells had extremely short telomeres, we speculate that most hematopoietic stem cells may have died from ‘stem cell exhaustion,’ reaching the upper limit of stem cell divisions.” 

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The researchers also found that the woman’s white blood cells’ telomeres were extremely short. Telomeres, which are at the ends of chromosomes and protect them from damage, get a bit shorter each time a cell divides. Further research is needed to learn whether such stem cell exhaustion is a cause of death in extremely old people.

The next step will be to see if the white blood cell mutations can be artificially produced, and their effect on longevity, and whether avoiding stem cell exhaustion is feasible, thus prolonging life.

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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.

Alter Mann liest

 

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A Two Centuries Old Fish: Could it Unlock the Secret of Longevity for Man?

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There has been a buzz in the “can we extend human lives to 200 years” department following the catching of a 200 year old Shortracker Rockfish off Alaska’s coast. That fish was born there two centuries ago- before Alaska was a US State. It is the oldest Shortracker ever caught. It must also have been very lucky because many are hunted and eaten by predatory fish and so never see out their full life-span.

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With advances in stem cell research and DNA, this is yet another animal, like the naked mole rat, that may harbour secrets as to how we could manipulate our bodies to reduce ageing and promote longevity. Like the mole rat, this fish is no beauty to look at. It looks like a bloated shimmering orange goldfish.

Rockfish are some of the world’s oldest living fish, matched only by equally long-lived fish like the sturgeon, an ancient fish found in North America that can live to be more than a century old. There must be something special in the fish’s make up, because even discounting accidental death and being eaten by other fish or caught for food, most species of fish only live 2-8 years.

The previous record age for a caught rockfish was about 175-years-old, and that fish, at about 32.5-inches-long, was smaller than this latest catch.

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Let’s hope the fish is donated now to scientific longevity research, and not end up in a fish pie!

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The History of the Quest for Immortality

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There’s a lot in the news at the moment about the search for immortality. People are living longer, and they say that someone has already been born that will live to be 150-200 years old. In fact the main funders for the search for immortality are billionaires.  When you stop and think and think about it, the reasons is obvious. They have more to lose when they die. You can’t take it with you! The most you can do is bequeath it to your heirs.. and you won’t be able to see them enjoy it. So billionaires want to live longer so they can enjoy their wealth for longer. That’s why they spend so much on research, looking for the elixir of eternal life.

Was it always the way that the rich sought paths to immortality to longer enjoy their richness? Yes. But they got ripped off a lot more!

In ancient China many all-powerful emperors died from consuming mercury-based potions given to them under the promise that it would make them live forever. Mercury is indeed a strange-looking substance- a shiny silver liquid metal. Looks like it could be the elixir of life… but no. It gives a slow and agonising departure from this world.

Fast-forward to 1492. There on his deathbed was Pope Innocent VIII. Three 10 year old boys were paid a ducat each to donate their blood to try to keep the old god-botherer alive. The boys died. And of course so did the Pontiff- probably from blood poisoning. I wonder which of them went to heaven?

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During the next two centuries centuries, it was the turn of thousands of European alchemists to hoodwink and swindle rich aristocrats with bogus potions for eternal life.  These elixirs (which often included mercury and arsenic) often gave off noxious and poisonous vapours that would eventually kill the alchemist (as well as failing to prolong the life of the Aristo).

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After World War I, thousands of rich old men (probably the donkeys who led the lions) opted for a more biological and glandular fountain of youth. They arranged for chimpanzee testicles to be grafted into their scrotums at Sergei Voronoff’s exclusive medical clinic on the French Riviera. Ouch. Must have been an issue for the undertaker- whether to remove the clearly failed extra-testicular activity, or leave it for all to see as they lay naked in the coffin! In the picture below Sergei and his brother George perform their quad-gonads operation.

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In 1971,  researchers declared that science would unravel all the mysteries of ageing within five years.  All you needed was the appropriate injection of finance…  Alas, that didn’t come to be. In fact five years later all we got was the San Francisco Chronicle reporting that “human life could be extended to 800 years.”  That same year, an outfit called Microwave Instrument Co. in Del Mar, California, said they’d have immortality drugs on the market within three years. They saw a connection between agitating the molecules of blood through microwaves and immortality. Oops. Next!

Just imagine if a rich person funded the creation of an immortality drug, and it succeeded. Would he or she share it with the rest of us for free? Come on! The only people who would benefit would be fellow billionaires.
I guess the moral of this article is that if you want to live forever, you’d better start getting very rich very soon!
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Accidental Death: The Bane of Immortality

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It would seem that, if scientists, researchers, biologists and clinicians are to be believed, we should have found cures for many, if not all, of the things that kills us, in about a century. That’s Alzheimer’s, cancers, degenerative diseases, and even ageing.  So in a 100 years time, there we all are, not growing old, not falling ill, and virtually immortal.  What will we do? Go out and enjoy the rest of our lives, secure in the knowledge that we will not die. Unless of course we suffer an accident.

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As good as surgery and medicine will be in 100 years time, it will not be able to bring you back from the dead if you suffer a fatal accident. Drowning at sea, a nasty pile-up on the motorway, a plane crash, a fire, a fall off of a ladder that cause brain trauma- the list is almost endless.  What would we do to avoid accidentally terminating our immortality? Here’s a (admittedly pessimistic) take on this:

We would try to avoid all situations where a fatal accident could occur.  Why risk shortening your never-ending life-span? We would become a world of  risk-avoiders. Why risk travelling to a foreign land? Just watch it on TV in your secure air-tight protected shell of a world. Why risk physical inter-action with other humans? Many of them are mad, or dangerous, so why risk it? Contact them solely through the internet video. Much safer.  Physical activity? No thanks! Cycling, driving, running, all could lead to an accident or some sort that threatens your one trillion tomorrows.

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We would all settle into comfy armchairs alone in a room secure from the perils outside the door. The future a lonely sedentary existence that is really half-life. A life without the potential for danger is a life without the potential for quality. A living death?

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Pill to prolong your Life to 150 Years?

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 It’s long been recognised that red wine, when taken in moderation, has a good effect on the human body.  Indeed, there are a number of people in their 80’s who take a glass of red a day. The wine contains resveratrol, an organic chemical, which is believed to have an anti-ageing effect through  boosting the activity of a protein SIRT1.

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A pharmaceutical firm, GSK, are preparing to launch a concentrated and synthesised version of resveratrol.  It is being tested on people with certain medical conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes and the serious skin condition; psoriasis. But it could have a life-prolonging effect on all of us.

David Sinclair

David Sinclair

David Sinclair, professor of genetics at Harvard University, has said that ageing might not actually be an “irreversible affliction”.

He said: “Some of us could live to 150, but we won’t get there without more research.”

It seems that increasing SIRT1 activity improves how well our cells operate, making them less sluggish. Mice, bees and flies have been given the SIRT1-boosting compounds and have lived up to 50% longer.

Writing in the journal Science, Prof Sinclair claimed to have performed experiments which showed these resveratrol-based compounds were having a direct effect on health.  There have already been promising results in some trials with diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and heart failure, Type II diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, fatty liver disease, cataracts, osteoporosis, muscle wasting, sleep disorders and inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis, arthritis and colitis.

Current trials not only are looking at how the compounds might help treat these age-related diseases, but if they can prevent their occurrence in healthy people. This is where it is possible, by reducing the likelihood of them occurring, that people on the drug will stay healthy for longer, and double their life span.

 

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Trouble in Paradise: Bama Yao Waters of Life becoming Polluted

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Bama Yao is an autonomous County in the Guangxi Provinced in Southeastern China. You may have heard of it. It’s often featured on programmes about longevity and prolonging life. That’s because a very high proportion of the people who live there, are over 100 years old.  The number of centenarians (those who are 100 or over) is almost double the United States average.

This is despite the fact that many cancer patients declared as incurable and near life’s end have made a pilgrimage to Bama. In fact the county has the highest density of incurable cancer patients outside of hospitals anywhere in China.

While there’s no scientific proof that the waters there have life-increasing properties,  people there drink the spring water and breathe in the morning and evening mists. This has happened since the Qing Dynasty.  It’s not just drinking in the mists and water; various other methods for prolonging life have been tried there. Some people wear gloves and crawl barefooted on the surrounding hills like a dog, believing their organs will massage each other and draw energy from Bamo’s earth. Others believe that drinking the urine of the native people in Bama has therapeutic effects. Nice. There are also “magnetic therapy” sessions within a cave in the County where the spring is located.

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Some rich people have Bamo water shipped to their home towns or cities, but some say that the water loses its elixir of life quality once taken outside the County’s boundaries.  That has led to many people travelling to Bamo to take in the waters of life. Locally they are known as “migratory birds” and resented by the locals. Richer people from the Yangtze River Delta are buying or building properties there. This has led to accusations, with some foundation, that the influx is killing the goose that laid the Golden Egg. Tourism development and the immigrant population have overwhelmed the area, causing the mother river to become polluted.  Will this lead to people leaving and the area becoming once again a haven of longevity for the exclusive few?

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Who knows, but the fact is that current 39 centenarians living there are lamenting the publicity their County has attracted, and wondering if their days are becoming (more) numbered than hitherto. Trouble in paradise indeed.

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Kushwant Singh: Ways to Live Beyond 100 Years of Age

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While we wait for a miracle drug or DNA implant to give us immortality or at least exceptional longevity, there are other practical steps you can take to prolong and enjoy your life well into your 9o’s and 100’s. Ask Kushwant Singh

Kushwant Singh  (born 2 February 1915) is a well-known Indian novelist and journalist. He is 98. He intends to live a lot longer. He is a witty secularist. He is a recipient of the second-highest civilian award in India, the coveted Padma Vibhushan.

He first thought that he owed his longevity and good health (both physical and mental) to his parents’ genes, as they lived well into their nineties. However his brothers and sisters have not fared so well in the longevity stakes and are no longer alive, so he has modified and redefined his views and advice to those who wish to emulate him.

Much of what he preaches is simple stuff, but he makes a lot of sense. His first “mantra” is to prepare for old age. Don’t ignore it. Be ready to embrace it.  He says that you need to exercise your limbs and lungs regularly to avoid them seizing up. He was still playing tennis when he was 85.  Swimming and long walks are also recommended by him.

He also recommends a regular and vigorous massage routine- both giving (it makes your hands and arms work hard) and receiving. A daily one hour massage is the way to go to keep your body tones in your older years.

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On food and drink, he recommends cutting down drastically on all forms of food and drink. This is not just to prevent obesity (or to reduce weight if you are overweight) but to make your body work most effectively in turning meagre rations into energy. For example he starts each morning with a fruit juice, then has scrambled egg on slice of toast. Lunch is a light vegetable South Indian curry. Come evening he has a shot of whiskey before a light tea. The food should be carefully and fully masticated (chewed) in silence to allow better digestion. The amounts on a spoon or fork should be small and not heaped. He says that should never allow yourself to be constipated saying that the stomach is a storehouse of all kinds of ailments. He is quite vociferous on this, and says that he would rather take enemas and laxatives than become constipated and have food non-moving and blocked in your lower intestines. The timing of food and drink intake should be regular. Such as breakfast each and every day at 6.30am, lunch at midday, tea/supper at 7pm.

Smoking is, of course, out, as is anything that has been proved to raise your risk of illness/ill-health.

Turning to mental health he believes that the national Indian motto is one to rule you: Satyamev Jayate- only truth triumphs. He advocates never telling lies, trying to achieve peace of mind- never losing your temper or arguing. He argues that there is joy in giving things away- not necessarily money, but gifts you have made (toys or food for example).

He says that unlike many old people (especially in India) he does not spend long periods immobile in prayer. You can find your god in gardening, helping children with their homework, playing, walking, swimming and other forms of activity be it social or solitary. A sort of “meditation on the move”!

As I turn 60 next year, I shall certainly be trying some of these techniques!

 

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Oldest Animal Was Over Half a Millenium Years Old

Ming, RIP

Ming, RIP

What’s the oldest living animal on the planet? A human? No, the oldest one died recently at 118. An elephant? No 89 years. What about a giant tortoise from the Galapagos Islands? 255 years old (although there are disputes on this down to some calendar jiggling). How about.. wait for it 405 years old???

A youngster at 255 Years Old!

A youngster at 255 Years Old!

Yep. An animal was brought ashore from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean a few weeks ago that was born when Elizabeth the First was our Queen, and Shakespeare was penning the Merrie Wives of Windsor! Sadly, by the time the scientists undertook experiments and carbon dating to establish its age, the Methuselah Clam had shrugged off its mortal coil. But Help the Aged, the well-known UK charity donated a cool £40k for tests and research to try to find out why a denizen of the seabed south of Iceland managed to exist for more than four centuries. In fact more recent tests at Bangor University in Wales have revised its age and has shown that the Clam was more like 507 years old, putting it back to the times of Henry VII!

It’s a type of  Icelandic clam known as Quahog (Ring a bell Family Guy fans?) and even has been given a name, Ming: It was named after the Chinese Ming dynasty, which was in power when it was alive. Sadly Ming was killed by the Bangor researchers when opening the mollusc’s shell to see how old it was. A sad end for a venerable seabed denizen of the deep.

Cheng Zu, Ming Emperor

Cheng Zu, Ming Emperor

Paul Butler, an Ocean Scientist as Bangor talking to Science Nordic magazine said:

“We got it wrong the first time and maybe we were a bit hasty publishing our findings back then. But we are absolutely certain that we’ve got the right age now.”

Much as a tree’s age can be found by cutting it down and counting its rings,  a bivalve mollusc’s age is calculated by totting up growth rings – the lines left annually on the shell by seasonal variations affecting how quickly they grow.

Ming’s original age had been calculated, wrongly,  by counting the growth rings on the hinge of the clam, but as the creature was so old the rings had crowded together making them difficult to distinguish,  even with a microscope, with more than 500 packed into a space just a few millimetres across.

The new age of 507 years was calculated by instead counting the rings on the shell’s exterior, where they were more evenly spaced.  But in so doing this, one of the world’s oldest animals went up to the Clam Bed in the sky.

Butler told Science Nordic:

“It’s worth keeping in mind that we caught a total of 200 ocean quahogs on our Iceland expedition. Thousands of ocean quahogs are caught commercially every year, so it is entirely likely that some fishermen may have caught quahogs that are as old as or even older than the one we caught.”

Ming’s long life was due to the clam’s incredibly slow metabolism. It’s unlikely that the secret of Ming’s longevity can be usefully transferred to humans. Its DNA is likely to be and good for us, and unless we want to stick around on the seabed doing, well, not very much at all, our metabolism can’t be changed to that of the clam.

Ming RIP

Ming RIP

 

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“Who Wants To Live Forever?”

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Well, from all the scientific research that seems to be going on across the globe, it seems the answer to that is… most of us! From naked mole rats to skin stem cell stimulation it seems like longevity, perhaps even immortality is the next barrier for mankind to burst through.

A naked mole rat held by Dr Chris G Faulkes

But the quote in the title, wasn’t the full quote. For military historians they may well recognise the full quote, as uttered by Marine Sergeant-Major Daniel Joseph Daly. Highly decorated throughout his fighting career, he is famous, more probably infamous, for having said to have yelled, “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?” to the men in his company prior to charging the Germans during the Battle of Belleau Wood in WW1. So he was encouraging his men to grip their courage and charge an enemy position without regard to the fact that they may lose their lives.

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So why do we want to live forever? The scientific and biological research seems to be far ahead of those contemplating the social, economic and environmental consequences of mankind living for far longer, perhaps even for ever. It always makes me laugh when I see in an obituary that someone’s death has been described as “untimely”.  There are very few people who would describe a death as “timely”. Even at the end of a long debilitating illness, most people and families would try to cling on to life, for those few extra seconds before departing into the great unknown.

The average life of man has increased over tens of thousands of years. The average life-span now of man in a developed country in around 80 years old (more in Asia- discuss…). But it has taken an awful long time in evolution to get there, from the dawn of the first homo erectus. But is it evolution? And has it really increased by that much?

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Using measurements from teeth, skulls and bones that have been found, it seems that many early cavemen actually lived to a ripe old age of 30 or beyond. And the main reason that they failed to live longer than that was not some biological evolutionary stuntedness, but simply their susceptibility to disease, lack of food, heat, and of course predators. Remove those obstacles to longevity and it is likely that early man, on average,  could have lived to the age we live to now. So perhaps we have not evolved to live longer, it is just that our circumstances and environment now permit this? No doubt advances in medicine have ensured people don’t die prematurely from accident or disease, but are we actually prolonging man’s innate longevity or merely preventing premature death?

While advances in medicines (a cure for cancer anyone?) are likely to further prevent unnecessary death, it is the actual quest to unlock some secret to longevity and perhaps immortality that intrigues me. Other animals that have been on the planet as long, if not longer, than man, live to approximately the same age as they did tens of thousand of years ago. They have not evolved to live longer, just as I argue that neither has man. So if the biological and scientific tampering with the very heart of man does produce and elixir of longevity, or perhaps even immortality, would the basic DNA of the human not be affected in some way? Is there not some body-clock trigger that would kick in to prevent us living forever? We don’t know, but some commentators argue that just as it is not possible to travel faster than the speed of light, physics and biology will not permit man to cheat death. Is there a “death gene” that simply cannot be by-passed?

Moving on, if we are able to overcome a potential in-built preventative fail-safe mechanism, and live for 200, 300, 400 years or more… How much research has been undertaken and published on the consequences for mankind, and the planet? Back to the quote: Who would want “..to live forever?” on a planet crowded with more and more people who just won’t move on and die and make room for new people. Imagine the conservatism of politics for those who have seen it all before in the hundreds of years they have already lived here? What about food? air? pollution? And what about those of a religious persuasion who consider that man is cheating their God’s will by artificially extending their life beyond three score years and ten? Will they stand idly by as non-believers swell in number?

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Then on a personal level, what happens to our brains, our humanity, when we are faced with the prospect of being around the same people, the same friends and family.. forever? How to spring from bed each morning to embrace a new day that you know will never be your last, or anyone else’s? How to motivate oneself to enjoyment, work, study, development and making new relationships… knowing that they stretch away into infinity? My guess is that self-termination; suicides,  would become the solution for those unable to appreciate the wonder of living forever.

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All food for thought, and probably the kind of thoughts that don’t enter into the minds of scientists hell-bent on “curing” death. Which may not be an illness at all, but the key to man’s continued existence on the planet.

A journey-all journeys- have to have a beginning a middle and an end. Without an end it is not a journey, and there is no purpose in travel. We would become as a painting of soft fruit in a bowl- rotted- still life. And gain a living death by cheating it.

One third  - a project on food waste

 

 

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

Fat Cells in Adipose Tissue

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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To Stem Ageing: Could Skin Stem Cells be the Solution?

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The secret to the fountain of youth lies in awakening ‘sleeping’ stem cells in the skin, according to new research.  We know that stem cells are supercells that can control the creation of other cells. They are crucial to repairing damaged skin, but as we get older these stem cells seems to suffer a regeneration forgetfulness and allow the skin to become wrinkled and lose its elasticity. British and U.S. scientists say the breakthrough may open the door to the development of better beauty treatments to zap wrinkles and saggy skin for good.

As you may have guessed this study and report was sponsored by skin product manufacturers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the findings are iffy.  The University of Sheffield did the research, in conjunction with well-known Olay skin cream makers Procter & Gamble. It was published in Nature Scientific Reports. The study stretched (like skin?) over three years and tested the three most popular considerations and hypotheses about skin regeneration.
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Engineer Dr Xinshan Li (pictured above) said:
“‘The theory which seems to fit best says skin has a population of “sleeping” stem cells, which sit in the lowest layer of the skin but do not constantly divide to make new cells. However, these sleeping cells can be called into action if the skin is damaged, or if the numbers of other types of more mature skin cells decrease, ensuring the skin can be constantly regenerated under all conditions.

Co author of the report Dr Arun Upadhyay, a computational biologist at Procter & Gamble, said: ‘

“These models permit exploration of hypotheses in very short periods of time, relative to the lab based bench work. The ability to follow virtual skin models over decades may be especially important to skin cancer research. Environmental damage caused by ultraviolet radiation or chronic wounding can cause sleeping cells to harbour the mutations which cause skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma, a very aggressive type of skin cancer.”

Simply put the trick then is to stimulate “good” stem cells whilst keeping mutant stem cells latent (lest they cause cancers). While the research has a long way to go to fruition to create a pill or cream that can activate the best stem cells and cause them to regenerate “old” skin for many many years, while leaving the bad stem cells dormant, this is an important first step. A road map has been created and all that’s required is time, energy, money and innovation to travel that road to a successful conclusion. And to skin that regenerates on demand; surely an elixir of eternal youthfulness and longevity as was found in Sir Rider-Haggard’s character in his book “She”  in Shangri La?

SHE

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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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Of Mice and Men…and Reversing Ageing!

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While one may want to argue the merits of living forever, or the burden that will fall on the young as the old get older and live longer, but who would not jump at the chance for a magic pill to stop or even reverse the ageing process? Oh to regain that lost youth (and retain our experience)  that, as Oscar Wilde said was “wasted on the young”.

Researchers in the US (Harvard University)  and Australia (University of New South Wales) anticipate that an anti-ageing product can be trialled on humans in 2014, following success in reversing the ageing process in muscles in laboratory mice.

It involves a process of restoring the efficiency of cells: Two-year-old mice were given a compound over a week, moving back the key indicators of ageing to that of a six-month-old mouse. Researchers said this was the equivalent of making a 60-year-old person feel like a 20-year-old:  As a man nearly at his sixtieth the birthday, the idea of springing out of bed one morning, cycling to the bowling alley and clocking up strikes and spares galore like I did 40 years ago is somewhat appealing!

Anti-Aging

But if successful, the compound may not just reverse ageing, but also reverse and roll-back (and therefore treat) diseases such as cancer, diabetes and dementia.

Without getting too technical, the research concentrated on an area of cells, called mitochondria, which produce energy. Over time, the vital communication between this area and the cell nucleus degrades, leading to the ageing process. Researchers injected a chemical called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, or NAD, which reduces in the body as we age. The addition of this compound led to the breakthrough reversal in the ageing of the mice. The process was also rapid- almost overnight the reversal of ageing began. The compound is also based on something that naturally occurs in the body and so no or few side effects are expected. It may not allow us all to live till we’re 200, but will mean we will be healthier in our later life.

As always there’s a cloud to ruin an otherwise azure summer sky. This one is cost. The one-a-day magic pill made from the compound for a human would cost about $50,000. Imagine then a world where rich people live longer, healthier and presumably happier than the rest of us. Wait a minute doesn’t that occur already?!!

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“Of mice and men” is of course from the John Steinbeck novel, which in turn took the line from the penultimate stanza of Scot’s poet Robbie Burns’ “Ode to a Mouse”:

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

 

 

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A Nutty Way to Cheat Death?

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Eat nuts, and live longer. That seems to be the outcome of a large study supported by National Institutes of Health and a research grant from the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation. One of the key findings was that people who ate a daily handful of nuts were 20 percent less likely to die from any cause over a 30-year period than those who didn’t consume nuts. And this conclusion isn’t from a bunch of wobbly pseudo-scientists; the people who were engaged to do the spadework were  say from the Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital  and the Harvard School of Public Health. Their report was published in the respected New England Journal of Medicine.

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The research also found that regular nut-eaters were slimmer than those who didn’t eat nuts. It was previously believed that heavy nut-eaters were prone to obesity. The report also looked at the protective effect of nut-eating on specific causes of death.

Charles S Fuchs, the Director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment Centre at Dana-Furber, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and senior author of the report , said;

“The most obvious benefit was a reduction of 29 percent in deaths from heart disease — the major killer of people in America. But we also saw a significant reduction — 11 percent — in the risk of dying from cancer.”

The reduction in mortality was similar for both peanuts (a legume, or ground nut) and for tree nuts — walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamias, pecans, pistachios, and pine nuts.

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What about previous studies on the effects of nuts on life and death?

Several previous studies had found an association between increasing nut consumption and a lower risk of diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, gallstones, and diverticulitis. Higher nut consumption also has been linked to reductions in cholesterol levels, oxidative stress, inflammation, adiposity, and insulin resistance. Some small studies have linked an increase of nuts in the diet to lower total mortality in specific populations.

As part of the study, participants in the studies filled out detailed food questionnaires every two to four years. With each questionnaire, participants were asked to estimate how often they consumed nuts in a serving size of one ounce. A typical small packet of peanuts from a vending machine contains one ounce. The researchers found that individuals who ate more nuts were leaner, less likely to smoke, and more likely to exercise, use multivitamin supplements, consume more fruits and vegetables, and (perhaps surprisingly) drink more alcohol. However, the detailed analysis was able to isolate the association between nuts and mortality independently of these other factors.

Ying Bao of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and first author of the report said:

“In all these analyses, the more nuts people ate, the less likely they were to die over the 30-year follow-up period. Those who ate nuts less than once a week had a 7 percent reduction in mortality; once a week, 11 percent reduction; two to four times per week, 13 percent reduction; five to six times per week, 15 percent reduction; and seven or more times a week, a 20 percent reduction in death rate.”

One thing is for certain, there’s always going to be a bowl of nuts on my coffee table from now on!

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