The lure of immortality

“It would be wonderful to get to a world where all death is optional. Right now, essentially all of us are sentenced to the death penalty, even though most of us have done nothing to deserve it.” – Gennady Stolyarov 

I read an article recently on BBC on how to live forever and it reminded me of the lure of immortality and the ironies of life: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140421-how-to-live-forever .

There are many religious theories on why people die but scientifically speaking, immortality is made impossible because of the shortening of the telomeres (the ends of chromosomes) with every cell division. Consequently, there is a limit to the number of times cells can reproduce themselves. The connection between the shortening of the length of telomeres and aging has already been strongly established. However, modern scientific research has already shown some indications that it is possible to stop, even reverse, this phenomenon of shortening telomeres. For instance, telomerase, an enzyme, actually lengthens telomeres and there are already some methods available to “activate” this enzyme in animal studies.

I think it is possible for humans to conceive technologies and drugs to stop the shortening of telomeres and halt aging in human beings within the next 10 -20 years. However, I do not think it can lead to immortality. This is because while we are obsessed at one end over making cells immortal, at the other end of the spectrum, we are obsessed over making immortal cells (i.e. cancer cells) mortal again. Imagine if every cell in the body does not die, every cell is more prone to becoming cancerous. While immortality is not the only characteristic of cancer cells, once the cells are immortal, there is an increased likelihood of them becoming cancerous.

I think that is the very irony in the hunt for immortality. When some parts of us become immortal, we die because of the little bit of immortality expanding in our body. I guess that is how God stops us from cheating death.

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