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There is nothing eternal in our world. And that has always upset mankind. Our life is so short that by the standards of the Universe it hardly lasts a second. The search for the fountain of youth and the elixir of eternal life is the best way to characterize our species – we do not want to die and do everything possible for this. Although, nature still wins: organisms inevitably grow old, and their place is taken by descendants. But do not despair – in recent years, the average life expectancy has increased significantly, and scientists have developed drugs and technologies that can significantly extend it, while maintaining quality.
But even if we live more than a hundred years, we will still grow old. The fact is that cells are programmed to divide and reproduce: the more they divide, the older they become and lose the ability to function normally. But what is death anyway? And are there organisms in nature that can live forever?
Aging and death
Almost all living organisms on our planet are born, mature, grow old and die. According to the “selfish gene” theory, we stay healthy long enough, but only to leave offspring and provide them with everything they need. From the point of view of nature, our children are the guarantee of immortality. True, with one condition – if they also have children.
Natural biodiversity is amazing. For example, oysters, salmon or, say, fruit flies quickly solve vital tasks: it is enough to lay a large number of eggs somewhere and voila – the mission is completed and there is no need to live on. For other animals, the tasks are more complicated: tigers or dolphins must bear offspring, raise them, feed them and “send” them into adulthood.
Homo sapiens have their own difficulties: when our children have children, we actively help them, remaining useful for some time. And we also have all the resources and technologies necessary for this, which allow us to stay healthy and active longer. But sooner or later, the cells of the body will begin to fail: the spine will bend, the eyes will stop seeing, the hearing will disappear, and the memory will deteriorate so much that we can hardly recognize ourselves in the mirror.
By studying the nature of aging, scientists are looking for the answer in our DNA, believing that the telomeric regions of chromosomes are responsible for lifespan and are associated with aging (but why is not known). We know that there are genes that determine the survival of fruit flies, nematode worms, and mice. These genes almost certainly exist in humans, but what is good for insects and other mammals may not be good for humans.
However, in the second half of the 20th century, life expectancy increased in developed and developing countries. Proper sanitation, nutrition, education, and medicine have made us long-lived, and studies in the US, Japan, and the UK have confirmed that social status is associated with health and longevity .
Civil servants live longer than their deputies. Oscar-winning movie stars live an average of four years longer than regular Hollywood actors. The same is true for queen bees, which live 10 times longer than worker bees.
If we could choose parents, then we should look for carriers of the gene that controls aging. And although no one knows exactly what it is and how it works, with such relatives, the chances of becoming a long-liver increase. Especially if we have a brother or sister who lived to be 100 years old. Exceptional longevity appears to be inherited.
In addition to the above, nutrition plays an important role in life expectancy. Rats, mice, and other calorie-restricted animals live longer than their well-fed siblings. We cannot say the same about a person, but there is no doubt that overeating and being overweight are dangerous to health.
Genes and youth
In the fight against aging and subsequent death, scientists turned to jellyfish and other marine life for help. The fact is that some marine animals have an amazing ability to regenerate. So, if you cut the hydra into many pieces, a new full-fledged individual will grow out of each. Can death be avoided?
Unfortunately, the ability of hydra and some lizards to regrow limbs does not help humans live longer. But don’t despair—scientists have extended the lives of flies, worms, and mice through genome editing, and some studies show that humans can live up to 140 years. Earlier, we talked about the capabilities of the CRISPR genetic editor, I recommend reading it.
Why do we need immortality?
The modern understanding of death can be formulated as follows: when an organism reaches puberty, the force of natural selection weakens, starting the aging process. In fact, death is an integral part of the cycle of life that affects people, animals, plants and even stars, and the life cycle itself is focused on survival.
In general, you and I are incredibly lucky: just 200 years ago, the average life expectancy was about 35 years (compared to today’s 75-80 years). For this reason, some scientists continue to search for the secret to longevity, considering death to be a scientific problem that needs to be solved. And although true immortality is still far away, scientific progress will definitely allow us to maintain health and live longer.
Many believe that death is similar to the process of falling asleep: the head becomes heavy, the eyes slowly close, and breathing becomes barely perceptible. It sounds good, but in reality, death rarely comes quickly and painlessly.
But there is something else important – we are aware of the inevitability of our own death. We know about it, but we cannot imagine how it will happen. There is probably nothing wrong with this, and someday our planet and star system will not exist. So we have few options – if we want to defeat death and live forever, we will have to go beyond the solar system and look for a new home. And this is perhaps the best argument in favor of life extension. But if someday we can conquer space and defeat death, are we really going to like a life without end?