Immortality beckons. It’s that one thing unattainable to all of us. No matter how lucky, rich, or good looking we are, the odds are 99.999999% that we will die (there’s always the slimmest of chances that someone, somewhere has outsmarted death).
But like modern day Ponce de Leons rambling through Florida searching for the fountain of youth (the irony of him searching in Florida of all places), scientists are diligently trying, if not to have us live forever, then at least a bit longer.
One idea that’s been tossed around has been to upload our consciousness onto the web, or some other computer. But that begs the question — even if it would be possible to map our gray and white matter into bits and bytes, would it really be us?
Forget that for now. We won’t be cylons any time soon.
Instead scientists are focused on taking what we have — our flesh and blood bodies — and making them better.
The latest: scientists at UCLA have targeted a gene that counterbalances the harmful but seemingly unavoidable aging process, and by manipulating it in fruit flies, they’ve been able to extend life spans (in the flies) by as much as 30%.
First question: what good are fruit flies? We’re a lot more complex than them after all. Well, fruit flies are easy to study for one thing. Scientists know all the fruit fly genes, and can switch them on and off at will. Plus, their genetics correspond to 75% of our disease-causing genes. It’s not proof, but it’s a good first start.
Second question: what are they doing exactly? They identified a gene called AMPK that, when activated specifically in the nervous system and the gut, spread beneficial effects throughout the body. It is believed that this gene could help offset the damaging effects of a range of diseases.
If this hold true in humans, the average lifespan could be shifted to well over 100. And not only would we theoretically live longer, but our quality of life would be vastly improved. Yes, in a way it’s science meets sci-fi.
Don’t rush down to the nearest gene therapy clinic just yet. This work is all very preliminary. But it’s got to start somewhere.