Harvard research team claims gene mutations could lead to immortality
Who wants to live forever? Well, a research team from Harvard does by the looks of things. Their research into so called germ cells has come up with a remarkable discovery.
C. Elgans and the creation of bullet proof worms
Ever heard of Caenorhabditis Elegans? In the field of research into immortality they are simply referred to as C. Elgans, and they could be the key to a close to eternal existence. And no, they are not a made up term used in some new Hollywood production. Relax, none of us will have to put up with Highlander IV Movie trailers.
Indeed C. Elgans are very much real. In fact, every living species walking, swimming and flying across the planet today is living proof of their existence. Passed on from generation to generation you currently carry the same C. Elgans as the first primate.
C. Elgans are so called germ cells, which have truly mastered the art of survival when compared to our somatic cells, which still have a lot to learn. Our germ cells are experts at making new organisms (sperm and ova), and are specifically designed to pass on genetic information to our offspring. Compared to Somatic cells they have stronger immunity and resistance towards many genetic stresses that cause regular cells to break up.
Ok, so how can these germ cells help make us immortal if they are mainly responsible for our reproduction? Well, they appear to be great role models. Far better role models than Britney Spears in any case. The Harvard team in fact tricked a few somatic cells into taking on some germ cell's attributes.
Needless to say the effects were staggering. Well, the effects on worms to be precise. While these worms did not actually become "bullet proof", they did have an extended lifespan. Of course there is a long way to go from prolonging a few worms' lives to creating an immortal human being. Our neurons for example might not be adaptable in the same way as somatic cells were. All in all we were probably born a few generations too early to experience the benefits of germ cell research. This might turn out to be a good thing, if not for us then human kind at least.
Why our species is not ready for immortality yet
If an immortality drug hit the stores tomorrow the world would probably tare itself apart within weeks. With fears of overpopulation becoming apparent many questions would be raised. Who deserves the drug? How many of us are still allowed to have children? Needless to say there would be riots. And Gordon Brown would probably start thinking what he could achieve with 300 years as prime minister.
Imagine if we lived in our current world, immortal for sure, but without the privilege of being allowed to reproduce. At some point in most people's lives having kids provides a sense of responsibility and stability. What consequences would there be to world full of women (and maybe some men) who's maternal needs are left unfulfilled?
Clearly toughening our species up to the point where we do not age and are as resistant to death as a leftover bowl of weetabix that has been lying on the side for a month only makes sense once we have conquered space travel and can dump our offspring on other worlds. There dear, you are 18 years old now, time to pack up, leave the house, and start rampaging and plundering on Mars.
Some serious thought has to be put into this whole process, besides the obvious "Will it work?" and "What if I grow a second head?" factors. Society as whole would need re-thinking. Maybe in 50 years time when this process is mastered we will have a few portals to other worlds spread across our planet. In the meantime though, instead of granting us immortality, germ research could help cure numerous diseases. That would be a great start!