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09.03.2002

Dream of immortality
Dream or nightmare?


"Ave Caesar morituri te salutant!" this debit to be the yell of the gladiators in the old roman empire, before they're massacring themselves.
But if u have a closer look at that sentence: ".. the one who will die are greeting you!", so it makes sense not only in this case. Every little child is condemned to die. And in fact our last moment is coming closer with every second. Well I admit this sight on the things is very fatalistic and gloomy and you really shouldn't think about it often, but the question: "Why? Why the human has to die?" isn't really uninteresting.
In spite of the definition of death that is different for a religious and an atheistic man, fact is that someday our physical existing is ending, the mechanic of our body is going down, at last the electric impulses in our brain.
But by this, only after hard injuries the exact reason for death is distinct.
But the thing that is called "fall asleep and never get up again" is harder to understand. Or the senescence for itself.
The human body resembles a machine, a really complex and resistant machine, which has the big benefit to renew itself all the time and to repair itself to a certain point. Mistakes by the cell-doubling are mostly corrected, injuries are repaired, enemies like virus are at most successfully combated.
In fact almost the whole body is renewing itself while some moth, without bones and the neurons (the cells our brain and nerves consists of).
Also the theory of the copy-mistakes cannot be right at all. This theory claims that there are mistakes by duplicating the cells. This mistakes summarize while a time and cause diseases like cancer and other, so they make the body unable to work after a time.
But the body is able to find and erase fault cells. So the mistakes while copying should have a smaller part as a cause for senescence and death.
In fact every creature is programmed to die by its genetic code! There is only a short lifetime necessary, to guarantee the survive of the species. After that the creature isn't needed anymore, more it's a rival for the following. But for what maintaining the species is for, I can't answer. The last question for the reason of the whole will probably never be answered.
But back to the "death-program". It's really something you can compare with a countdown. By this the time you can count or quantify is not important, but the biologic time.
A cell isn't able to work for the eternity, some of them have to renewed in a short time, cause they were very hard in work. This happens by cell-duplication. By this the whole DNA of the basic cell is copied. Also the cell-membrane is build up for a new like everything.
So this should be possible as long there is a constant supply of raw material by our food. But at the ends of a chromosome there is a DNA-sequence, a string, that is becoming shorter and shorter by every copying. The telomer. If a special length is reached the cell is unable to duplicate. This is happening after about 50 copies. This limit is named after the discoverer of it, "Hayflick-limit". After that the cells starts to decay and become unable to do their duty. So there can't be done repairs the right way, the skin becomes thinner and is easier to injure because of the missing production of collagen. Just in this case the decay is speeded up cause the cells constructed collagen the time before, now constructing collagenase, which is thought for erasing fault collagen, now destroying health collagen, too. The skin is age. Senescence is nothing different than a destruction from the internal.
Similar is happening in the whole body, in the organs and the rest.
Now damages like a sunburn, a cut or a broken bone cannot be repaired as fast as before, or not complete.
But the cells having a gene which is able to produce telomerase, an enzyme that is able to rebuild the telomer to its old length, so that the cells would be able to copy themselves forever.
But this gene is switched off in the cells of the body. Only in cells producing sperm and eggs, and in cancer-cells this gene is always switched on. Because of this the cells of cancer are only limited by "raw-material-shortage" in there growing. Just this fact, that cancer-cells are able to grow unlimited, to proliferate, makes them so dangerous.
But now the American Geron Cooperation in California proclaimed in the year 1998 that they were able to make human cells becoming immortal. They said they've found the telomerase-gene and its signal. This knowhow was used to make middle aged body cells becoming immortal. This cells duplicated more than 400 times now, so they are in fact immortal. By this there weren't found any signs for cancer, as many feared. The cells have copied correctly without age.
Now it is unclear if and how this results can be transferred to a human, probably it won't be that easy we hope (or fear?), but it seems that it's looking good for the way of the humans to become immortal.
If this, when it is really possible in some decades, is really desirable I don't know. Surely most people don't want to die, but our society would be forced to change. Also space and raw-material are limited.
But it would be a society of millions of people which would be on their theoretical highest level of efficiency for all times that will come.
Perhaps there would be the possibility to find out some new things, that we can't find out while our short life. Or there won't be a change in our head and "culture" except of the necessary? Or? What's your opinion?
Would this scenario be a dream or a nightmare?
Write, if you want to tell your opinion or ideas!
We will publish it if you want it.


Copyright by [Andi]

Source:
GEO, No. 12, December 1999 Page 100 ff (German edition)

Last update: 14.03.2000