This entry was posted by Saturday, 7 December, 2013
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Cute cartoon about tinkering with everlasting youth.



MISTER ScienceAintSoBad wishes he could immunize you against old age but, what can I do? It’s nature, right?

Is there a way to “change the rules”?

Maybe there is.

Dr. Aziz Aboobaker (Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences) studies planarian worms. Planarians – those that reproduce asexually –  don’t get old. They  don’t get wrinkles or gray hair, don’t hobble around on canes and don’t need hearing aids.

Being worms.

But get this! They do repair skin, muscles, brain, and bones so that they stay pretty much daisy fresh throughout their weirdly long lives. The secret? Dr. Abbobaker says its the way they regenerate all the stuff in their body whenever needed. Their cells  don’t “run out” of the ability to keep dividing. Ours do. If we could learn their trick, we would be beautiful and healthy for a ridiculously long time.

Chromosomes have a  telomere “cap” at the end. In humans, the cap gets shorter. When it gets too short, it can’t keep the strands of DNA in place and cell division goes haywire.

Planarians don’t have that problem Their telomere caps don’t  shorten  so cell division remains orderly. If we can teach our telomeres to maintain their length,  we’re on  our way to 125 years.

I’m not kidding.

What are the planarians doing that that we non-worms aren’t? There’s an enzyme (telomerase) which is responsible.  It’s more active in the worms that reproduce asexually, protecting the length of their telomere caps. It seems to make these particular worms “immortal”.

Could this work for humans? Would we want it to work?

We are a long way,  biologically speaking,  from asexual worms. What works for them might not work for us in a million ways. And,  If it did? Old age is “natural”, right? It was always thus. You’re a kid,  then a youth,  then your first grey hair. A little pot belly that just won’t quite  go away.  Some wrinkles. Grandchildren. And then golf.

A lot of golf.

Fix the cap on a telomere and all that could change in ways we can’t foresee. A Pandora’s box of unforeseen consequences.

Am I nervous? Well no. This is a nice piece of science but it seems unlikely to rock that boat. More needs to be done to fully understand what this “lab curiosity” means for biology.

A lot more before you can tear up your will.

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The drawing is mine.



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