To Live Or Not To Live?

Indefinitely

To Live Or Not To Live. Healthy Living Magazine

To Live Or Not To Live. Healthy Living Magazine

Must we die? Or put another way: can we live an ageless life? Scientists, being human, like everyone else they have become obsessed with these questions, and now we see that geneticists have discovered possible options to make people immortal. It has to do with a tiny freshwater creature called hydra, a polyp that reproduces by budding instead of mating, constantly producing stem cells. Hydra do not show signs of aging and are immortal. The other interesting aspect is that they share genetic sequences identical to those in humans. But it was discovering the core principal behind the hydra's immortality that lead to the discovery of how to transplant immortality.

genetic affinity

When people get older, more and more of their stem cells lose the ability to proliferate and thus to form new cells, say the scientists who published their work in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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aging signs

We age when tissues do not regenerate. This will cause death eventually. Muscles decline for this reason. The old feel weak because their heart muscles are getting older without renewal. They lose memory and brain power for the same reasons. But if we could influence these internal agers we would be biologically younger and turn back the hands of time.

longevity gene

“Surprisingly, our search for the gene that causes hydra to be immortal led us to the so-called FoxO gene,” says Anna-Marie Böhm, PhD student and first author of the study.

The FoxO gene exists in animals and humans but hadn’t been linked to human stem cell reproduction. Until this study it was not known why human stem cells become fewer and inactive with increasing age. The research team examined FoxO in genetically modified polyps: hydra with normal, inactive or enhanced FoxO.

The scientists found that hydra without FoxO had fewer stem cells and were no longer immortal. The stem cells affected the immune system too. Drastic changes of the immune system similar to those observed in hydra are also seen in elderly humans.

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“Our research group demonstrated for the first time that there is a direct link between the FoxO gene and aging,” Thomas Bosch from the Zoological Institute of Kiel University in Germany, who led the hydra study, told the scientific press. “FoxO has been found to be particularly active in centenarians—people older than 100 years—which is why we believe that FoxO plays a key role in aging—not only in hydra but also in humans.”

who wants the gene?

The hypothesis can be verified on humans with genetic manipulation. The question of whether scientists will take this step is an ethical one of whether it is fair to manipulate an adult or a human fetus with genetic sequences that would leave the FoxO on forever—just as it was done in the hydra to inhibit or enhance its expression. Bosch stresses however that the current results are still a big step forward in explaining how humans age.

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ReferenceAnna-Marei Boehm, Konstantin Khalturin, Friederike Anton- Erxleben, Georg Hemmrich, Javier A. Lopez-Quintero, Ulrich C. Klostermeier, Hans-Heinrich Ober, Malte Puchert, Philip Rosenstiel, Jörg Wittlieb, and Thomas C. G. Bosch (2012): FoxO is a critical regulator of stem cell maintenance in immortal Hydra, PNAS, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/ pnas.1209714109
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