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!
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.
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.”
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.