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!
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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
“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).
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!
Recent research points to organ transplants becoming a thing of the past, and that those missing limbs can throw away their prosthetics. These breakthroughs are firstly that scientists have grown stem cells in a living animal for the first time, and that Sea Squirts might hold the key to limb regeneration. A very significant step, the research on mice could pave the way for damaged human limbs or organs being regrown inside patients. Back in the day (well, very recently actually,) Scientists had taken strides in what is known as regenerative medicine by taking cells out of the body, treating them in the lab and then putting the regenerated cells back.However, this latest study has seen researchers develop pluripotent stem cells in the kidney, stomach, intestine and pancreas of mice.
It’s a Spanish study and the lead authour of the article in the publication Nature, Maria Abad, said:
‘Our stem cells also survive outside of mice, in a culture, so we can also manipulate them in a laboratory. This change of direction in development has never been observed in nature.’
Prof Chris Mason, of University College London, called the research the
‘beginning of limb regeneration’. ‘The ultimate goal is regrow an arm or a limb but it is very early on in that route. But it is very significant and could have a massive impact on cell therapies. For instance, being able to treat cells within the body would reduce the costs of cell treatment significantly.’
We are certainly not there yet. What you’re getting with one hand nature seems to be taking back with the other: The technique in its present form has caused some of the mice to develop cancer-like tumours.
Turning to aquatic allies, the closest relative we humans have in the vast panoply of invertebrate species that blanket the earth is a tiny, unassuming marine set of animals called Sea Squirts or Tunicates. Get a load of this; they are able to regenerate their damaged tissue from their blood vessels alone.
Scientists believe that this odd characteristic may hold the genetic secrets that might eventually allow humans to regrow a lost arm, or accept a heart from someone else without danger of rejection. Up till now it’s been seen largely as a pest because it can foul up beaches, boats, and kill crabs, oysters and many other species of sea-life. It thrives in polluted harbours.
It is believed to have been the first invertebrate to have a vasculature heart system, similar to that in humans, with blood cells traveling through blood vessels. But astonishingly, it can regrow everything just with its blood vessels.
Ayelet Voskoboynik of Stanford University’s Stem Cell Institute and an international team of scientists have just sequenced the genome of one species of this Sea Squirt; Botryllus schlosseri. The hope is that once scientists understand how the genes operate in the animal, they will be able to come up with new treatments for a wide range of human diseases. The researchers found that over three quarters of human genes were also present in Botryllus schlosseri.
The reserachers see possibilities of cures for heart diseases, cataracts, and deafness. So perhaps we should think twice before scraping off the orange muck from the bottom of our boats, or the harbour wall at low tide.
It’s fairly unanimously agreed that the dinosaurs ceased to exist 65 million years ago. Well, apart from turtles, some small lizards and crocodile-like reptiles. There is evidence that a huge amount of ash, smoke, debris and other sun-blocking material were thrown up into the atmosphere and spread around the young earth, causing the temperature to plummet and with it, the fortunes of the dinosaurs who for so long had ruled the planet. There is also evidence that this was caused by a huge meteorite impacting in Siberia and throwing up the deadly sunscreen, rather than a wave of linked volcanic activity.
Bit if that meteorite had just been o.o1% wide of the mark it would have skimmed the earth’s atmosphere and the only thing the dinosaurs would have noticed would have been a bright sky for a 30 minutes, then back to normal: Herbivores munching the huge expanse of forest vegetation and the carnivores hunting them down. And then what? Assuming that a second meteorite didn’t have the earth in its sights, and that history would have been the same, albeit delayed by a million years or so, what path would evolution take? Would we still be here? What would have happened to the dinosaurs?
There are a number of schools of thought on this issue. The first is that dinosaurs would have dies out by other means, and that mammals would have taken over eventually without meteoritic intervention. Some scientist think that they were the equivalent of the evolutionary fins on cars in the 1950s- they grew to silly proportions, had no practical benefit and just fizzled out. Another theory says that they ate themselves to death and poisoned themselves and most of the plant in their own faeces. I kid you not. There number and size of late Jurassic era dinosaurs meant that not only did they eat up all the carboniferous forests that circled the earth, but they poo’s more quickly than the earth could re-cycle their dumping grounds. They literally shat themselves into extinction.
But my favourite, and one that the majority of scientists say is possible is that given a few more tens of millions of years, the dinosaurs would have evolved much larger brains. Bigger brains means more intelligence. Given another 10 million years of evolution, then dinosaurs would have begun to shrink in size, and become more aware of their surroundings and began to develop thought and consciousness.
A few more eons and scientists say that they would have developed opposing thumbs. That would have been a great step forward, allowing them with their advancing brains. to fashion tools. Yep. Dino-tools. What about the mammals? Well there would have been no reason for mammals to evolve and take over. There would have been no gap, no niche for them. And by this time, dinosaurs would have advanced sufficiently that they would have been able to out-think and out-evolve mammals. Even if mammals had begun to rise, the new dinosaurs would have crushed them out of existence in order to maintain their grip on earth. In fact some scientists say that just as there were early battles between Neanderthal man and cro-Magnon/Neolithic man that ended in the triumph of homo-sapiens, there would have been a battle between neo-dinosaurs and early man. Except that the dinosaurs would have had the upper hand- been able to out-wit and out-techno early man, by using weapons and tactics that had evolved over millions of years. Early man would not have stood a chance.
So next time you look at an alligator in the zoo, and see it eyeing you hungrily- just think what might have happened had that meteorite not struck the earth…