There is a very old Greek myth concerning the goddess of the Dawn, Eos. Apparently, one morning (dawn) she spied two extremely handsome young men from the house of Troy some years before the famous War. She caught them both up to be her lovers in Olympus. She was a goddess so I guess she could do this. The young men’s names were Ganymede and Tithonus.
Well, it would have been a very temporary pleasant affair considering that Eos was immortal. So Eos went to Zeus to ask him to bestow immortality on the young men. Zeus was so taken with Ganymede that he gave him immortality, eternal youth, and immediately made him his cupbearer. Not bad for a young Trojan lad. I remember this part of the myth, but I forgot about what happened to Tithonus.
This is where it gets a little weird. Eos did ask for immortality, which was given, but forgot to ask for eternal youth. Eos didn’t seem to care at first. They lived together, they apparently had two children, and life went on. Of course, aging went on as well, but no dying. Tithonus got bent over, leathered skin, covered with liver spots, wispy beard and hair… he just got painfully old. In classic fashion, Eos simply got tired of him, so shut him in a closet and forgot about him. Apparent she had her Dawn duties so Tithonus is still up in Olympus, in his closet, a weathered mummy, but still alive.
Clearly the smarter thing to do was to ask for eternal youth. Immortality would be automatic. So, the key would be biological immortality. A quick trip to Google produces several articles. Apparently it exists. It just doesn’t exist for humans.
The article mentions several creatures that apparently do not age. They can die, but their organs and tissues do not deteriorate. There is a belief that lobsters are also immortal. This is somewhat true, they get older and bigger, but they outgrow their shells. Moulting takes great energy and many lobsters die from exhaustion. Some older lobsters stop moulting, but then the shell breaks down, falls apart, and the lobster dies from disease and infection.
Studies of lobsters seem to point out that telomerase, an enzyme, is a factor in anti-aging. Telomerase seems to repair the DNA chain when it breaks down.
Okay then, let’s get some telomerase enzymes for us humans! The good news is that we appear to have this enzyme. The only problem is that it is very good at encouraging tumors to grow. So, DNA can be repaired with telomerase, but you die from cancer tumors. Somehow humans can’t get it right. The following is just a partial list of biological immortals. The ages are approximate for disease and accidents, not because of tissue degeneration.
* Saltwater Crocodile – 150 years
* Red sea urchin – 200 years
* Greenland Shark – 400 years
* Bowhead Whale – 450 years
* Ocean quahog clam – 507 years
And of course the plant world has a few examples.
* Great Basin bristlecone pine – 4,713 years
* Fungus Armillaria ostoyae – 8,500 years
The fungus I just mentioned is an old friend, I’ve written about him in another blog. He (she?) lives up in Oregon, and he is about 2,300 acres big. So that means it is the largest and oldest living thing on the planet. Take me to your leader.
So, can humans ever tweak stem cells or telomerase to work?
“In 2015, Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of BioViva, treated herself using gene therapy, with the goal of not just halting, but reversing aging. She has since reported feeling more energetic, but long-term study of the treatment is ongoing…
In early 2017, Harvard scientists headed by biologist David Sinclair announced they have tested a compound called NAD+ on mice and have successfully reversed the cellular aging process and can protect the DNA from future damage. “The old mouse and young mouse cells are indistinguishable”, David was quoted. Human trials are to begin shortly in what the team expect is 6 months at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston.” Source: Wikipedia article on Biological Immortality.
Mythology is becoming reality.