HIQNews Home Page
Update: a Year Later (8/14/2002)
Inasmuch as some of these "editorials" have a tendency to appear highly placed in Google searches, I'm going to try to update them. (You might want to check back here periodically.) I'm also adding links to related material.
A Necessary Caveat: I need to warn you that I'm a physicist speaking outside--far outside--his chosen field. None of what you're going to read here has been reviewed by a biologist, much less a gerontologist. I had originally written this for friends and family, but inasmuch as it's showing up prominently in search screenings, I'm going to try update this with feedback from others more knowledgeable than I.
On the other hand, the logic here seems to me to be so compelling that I'm going to risk "foot-in-mouth" disease while I seek expert feedback.
If you're wondering what this "UltraHIQ" stuff is about, please click here.
8-13-2002 Special Update concerning Dimericine (see below):
Have you ever wondered how babies can possibly be born young? The germ cells that produce babies come from parents whose cells, are. typically, 15 to 35 years old (and in the case of the fathers, could be 70 years old). We know of no way to reverse cellular aging, so why aren't babies 15 to 35 years old when they're born? And for that matter, why aren't their babies 30 to 70 years old? And why aren't the great-grandchildren 45 to 105 years old at birth?. How can plants and animals propagate unaltered over thousands or even millions (e. g., ants and cockroaches) of generations? How can the young of all species be born or hatched or sprouted, brand, spanking new?
This would be analogous to a situation in which we have some master document that sits around the office for twenty years until it's coffee-stained, nicked, and smudged, and then we want to make a Xerox copy of it. Our Xerox copy would carry all the smudges and stains of the original. And if we went through this process over and over again, eventually our copy of a copy of a copy would become illegible.
Nature Must have Some Means of Completely Rejuvenating Germ Cells to Permit Faithful Reproduction
The inescapable conclusion seems to me to be that
Nature must have some means of cleaning up not only age-related damage to the genome but also, to the fertilized cell itself whenever an organism sexually reproduces,
germ cells must somehow be able to maintaingeless integrity that is sufficiently perfect that they and their progeny can remain unaltered over thousands or even millions of generations.
But it goes beyond this.
Every living organism has to be able to reproduce essentially-flawless copies of itself in order to survive... not just germ cells. Age-related damage from radiation, free radicals, and other unwelcome chemical side-reactions are the price an organism must pay for being alive. To live is to metabolize, and to metabolize is to suffer chemical insults. This means to me that this rejuvenation mechanism must be common to all life forms, whether they reproduce sexually or by parthenogenesis. It must have been present (I should think) almost from the first stirrings of life, since living organisms that couldn't pass on clean copies of themselves would almost immediately have died out.
Cellular Restoration Doesn't Happen When Cells of the Body Divide
It's also clear that this kind of rejuvenation doesn't occur when differentiated cells divide. If it did, we wouldn't age, and I guess that kind of immortality would seem to me to thwart evolution. In any case, it doesn't happen with the cells in our bodies.
This Restoration Process Might Be Expected to Have a Single Trigger
There must be something found in every living cell that triggers this cleansing and restoration. You could imagine that it might be instigated by the expression of a single gene, initiating the lysosomal manufacture of a cascade of molecules that can restore the cell to its pristine state. Once the repair process is complete, the cell might need to eliminate the repair molecules so that it can resume its normal metabolic functions.
Since this is common to all organisms, we might look for a gene or other feature that is common to all life. This commonality could possibly aid in identifying it.
We Might Hope to Harness This Phenomenon for Total Adult Rejuvenation
My hope and expectation is that the agents that rejuvenate cells can be introduced into the differentiated somatic cells of the body to restore them in vivo. I'm even entertaining the hope that it may be possible to trigger the refurbishment process within those cells themselves by transferring one kind of "trigger" substance into each cell, rather than by importing all the necessary agents that this hypothetical "trigger" substance evokes,.
How Do We Know That Germ Cells Aren't Immortal, and Perfectly Maintained Without Rejuvenation?
Unlike somatic cells, germ cells might be immortal and perfectly self-repairing without needing rejuvenation when they prepare to reproduce. If that's the case, then we would have to focus upon how germ cells maintain their state of perfection. In the case of unicellular organisms, like germ cells, they would presumably also have to maintain perfect integrity, since they're the master templates for succeeding generations of their kind.
How Do We Know That Rejuvenation Is Possible In Cells Other Than Ova?
We know that single-celled organisms that reproduce by parthenogenesis or by budding must also go through a rejuvenation process, so either rejuvenation must occur in those types of cells also, or, like germ cells, they must have their own machinery for perfect self-repair.
For me, these realizations first emerged two years ago when Advanced Cell Technologies cloned six calves using somatic cells from an old, old cow. Somehow, nature has a means of completely rejuvenating fertilized ova Does this happen after fertilization, and before first cleavage? Or is it only the daughter cells that are rectified? Not only is the genome completely renovated; so is the rest of the cell. There must be a surge of repair agents within an o÷cyte immediately after impregnation.... which brings us to "Dimericine". Dimericine helps repair DNA damage in adult cells, which suggests that all these other pre-mitotic agents might also repair damage in adult cells. Could an appropriate cocktail of these agents, administered topically, nasally, sub-lingually, or parentally, totally rejuvenate an aged human body? (A bacterium, deinococcus radiodurans, exhibits a phenomenal DNA repair capacity, reconstructing DNA that has been chopped into 1,000+ fragments within 24 hours.)
The Social Impact of Aging Retardation or Reversal
The impact of total, or even partial rejuvenation of aged organisms would be staggering. The monetary value of such a treatment might be of the order of tens of billions of dollars a year, so pharmaceutical companies may have some incentive to pursue this. And it it can happen, it will happen, if not here, then elsewhere, and if not now, then soon.
It should probably be emphasized that even if we could completely rejuvenate people over and over again, it still wouldn't confer immortality upon them. There are other ways for twenty-somethings to die, ranging from infectious diseases, through cancer and auto-immune diseases, to automobile accidents and wars. The life span might rise to hundreds of years, but sooner or later, something--e. g., an accident--would spirit us away.
Retirement Issues, and Overpopulation Concerns
Such a development would entail the most momentous social consequences. Two that first come to mind are the impact upon retirement and retirees, and upon population and pollution problems.
It would seem to me that most retirees who opted for rejuvenation treatments would have to return to work. Barring a completely robotically based economy, you can't have everyone retired and no one working, or even two-thirds of the economy retired and one-third working. On the other hand, returning to work with the children grown and gone and the house paid off might not be all that bad. There would be time to retool and make a career change. There could be work from home, and three-day weekends every other week. There might be arrangements wherein someone could take a year's sabbatical every few years. And of course, one could eventually save enough money that he and/or she could permanently retire and live off the income from their investments.
When I first thought about it, population control sounded like a most desperate problem, but after pondering it, I don't know that it would be such a problem after all. A century ago, the average family brood probably consisted of about 5 children. (My maternal grandparents had 7 children, and my paternal grandfather had 14, by two wives.) Today, the average couple has an average of about 2 children. Furthermore, world population is expected to peak at about nine billion in 2070, and then to begin a slow decline. In the meantime, with no obvious age-retardation or age reversal measures in evidence, life spans are increasing by 1/4th year per year, with no end in sight. (Another article makes it one-tenth year per year.) And this doesn't include the effects of any of the aging-retardation and aging reversal strategies that are in the works.
The point of this observation is, first, that we're going to have to deal with these problems with or without aging reversal, and second, that we've already cut our average reproduction from, perhaps, five to two. It may be argued that aging reversal would greatly exacerbate the problem, but sometimes, things have to get worse to get attention. And that brings us to the second point. Somehow, we've managed to voluntarily reduce the birthrate from greater than 2-to-1 to slightly less than 1-to-1. I think there's at least a reasonable chance that we could be persuaded, as a society, to hold our reproduction rate to 1-to-1 even if we were given longer to live. And children would still be with us, although they would be much less prevalent than they are today. (I would expect to see something like 1/10th as many children at any given time as we're seeing today.) If the honor system didn't work, then society would have to try some other approach. (Certainly, carrots would be better than sticks.) For people who wanted to have more than two children per couple, there would probably be a waiting list. And there might be a lottery system to allow some number of lucky individuals each day to be placed at the head of the line.)
If This Is True, Why Am I Not Hearing Any of This on the 6 O'Clock News?
Darned if I know! I've had to work this out for myself. It's certainly possible that I'm "out to lunch" about this. I'll be contacting gerontologists, seeking their expert inputs regarding this question of natural age reversal, so you might want to check back here in a week or so.
8-13-2001: There's a most interesting article, Aliens Over the Aegean, in tonight's Science News. Last week, two Turkish pilot trainees played tag for about half an hour with a bright object with "an unusual shape that looked like a cross between a cone and a disc" while radioing back a description of their peradventures to their home base. What's interesting to me is the fact that these weren't UFO enthusiasts. These were pilots-in-training, going about their business. Of course, there are other earlier, reports of pilots' observations of UFO's. Clyde W. Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto, observed a hovering, saucer-shaped object one day in New Mexico.
My problem with believing that these are little blue men with almond-shaped eyes is that it doesn't make sense.Iit seems to me that any species capable of interstellar flight in space ships would have motives and machines far beyond the UFO's that are being reported. And why is this the same old game of tag that's been reported for over 50 years? What's the purpose of this game? It won't be too many more years before everything is so wired to everything else that a UFO spotted over the Aegean will immediately be broadcast live over the Internet and, perhaps, over global news channels. Besides, I would be very surprised if aliens from outer space look much like us.
In the mid-20th century, "manned" surveillance was still a viable paradigm, but today, we're already moving toward tiny, unmanned aerial surveillance devices. And how about using living organisms such as trees or animals for surveillance? (In "The Watchers", "The Watchers" employ large animals as their planetary surveillance devices. The scifi theme is that slightly-altered animals such as mastodons, baluchatheria, and whales are modified to permit them to video-broadcast what they see to orbiting satellites (perhaps in the form of snapshots). This would be an unobtrusive way to spy on a primitive culture. A cave-man would have no idea that this were taking place).
Of course, just because these UFO manifestations don't add up to me doesn't mean they couldn't add up to a sufficiently advanced intelligence. It's interesting that a number of reputable observers have reported these sightings (along with 10 times as many explainable or fraudulent sightings). "There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
[At 11:30 one summer night In 1952, I personally saw some kind of unusual aerial phenomenon consisting of five or six faint, orange-red disks, each about a degree in angular diameter, moving against the wind across our northern sky. Although close together in angular separations, they were in no formation that was obvious from my point of vantage. The next day, I asked a reporter with the Lake County News Herald if the newspaper had received any other sighting reports that night. He said, "no", so I decided to forego any official submission of what I had seen. I didn't know then what I saw, and I don't know now. I'm sure they had some natural explanation.]
[Dr. J. Allen Hynek was the head of the Astronomy Department at Ohio State when I was an undergraduate there in the early 50's. I sometimes ate supper with a graduate student in astronomy who told me strictly on the QT that Dr. Hynek had an interest in tracking down UFO reports. Later, Dr. Hynek would become, I believe, the chief scientist for the Air Force' Project Bluebook, and the founder of what still-later became the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO studies. Somewhere around here, I may still have my copy of Dr. Hynek's book, along with the original 1947(?) book by Donald Keyhoe that ushered in the flying saucer era.]
[Without going into details, in 1957, Dick Gray and I investigated a major flying saucer sighting just east of Cleveland, Ohio. We determined to our satisfaction, after a radiochemical assay of supposedly radioactive soil, that there was nothing to the sighting. Later, Dick told me that it had become a classic among "ufologists". Chuckle!]
8-12-2001: I'd like to call special attention to one of last night's news releases: New cream may repair sun damage to skin. This new pharmaceutical, Dimericine, ready for the FDA approval cycle, would seem to me to reach far beyond sun damage to the skin. It contains a DNA-repair enzyme, that can, in a sense, rejuvenate aged skin. The article doesn't give much background, but DNA-repair mechanisms would seem to me to be one of the crucial ingredients for the kind of total rejuvenation that Nature has shown she can perform when she transforms partially aged germ cells into spanking new babies. Somehow, all the ravages that age has visited upon the parents are erased in the new life that issues from the womb. Dimericine would seem to me to be a step in this direction. And the body is full of epithelial tissue. What happens when a laboratory animal takes Dimericine internally? Repairing its DNA should (I should think) reduce the likelihood of cancerous transformation. What other enzymes and mechanisms are there? To me, this sounds like an exciting development.