We have a lot of weird sayings in our Lebanese society. One that we hear very often when someone passes away is "He’s out of fuel". You might consider it old and meaningless, but what might be surprising to most people is that this sentence is somehow right – scientifically speaking.
Is there any "life fuel"? Can we modify it? Can we achieve immortality? Or even cheat death?
The human body is composed of cells that divide and multiply based on information encoded in the DNA of each one. This process is called mitosis. However, since during every division, fragments of the Chromosomes containing the DNA are lost, living cells have adopted a way to protect themselves from this loss of information: Telomeres, which are a sequence of chromosomes that contain no information but work as protective caps.
The Chromosome and its Telomeres
Therefore, during each mitosis, telomeres fragments are sacrificed instead of DNA fragments and with every division, the telomeres get shorter due to losses. So what happens when the telomeres of our chromosomes end after so many mitosis in our life?
At this stage, the DNA begins to lose fragments and thus important information crucial to the well-functioning of our cells and so the wellbeing of our body. Moreover, when the DNA begins to deteriorate, cells die and so we do. So basically, we can predict our natural life span by simply looking at our telomeres; the real life fuel that we commonly talk about.
Currently, scientist are working on enzymes such as the "telomerase", in order to reconstitute the telomeres after each mitosis. If these experiences succeed, Humans will be able to cheat natural death and increase life span. It must be noted that this could be more natural than chemotherapy for cancer and even heart transplant.
According to Greek Mythology, Tithonus, the lover of the Greek Goddess Eos who begged Zeus to grant him immortality so they can spend the eternity together, forgot to ask for "eternal youth". Tithonus was granted eternal life, but he kept aging, unable to die. After a few hundred years, he eventually became the size of a cricket, babbling on senselessly forever. But why do we mention him here? Simple. Because extended life span without a cure for aging is useless and curing aging when you get old will not help. Therefore, we must cure aging itself beforehand. How? I will discuss this in my next article.
Until then, think of this: if science actually succeeds in creating a cure for aging and increases our life span, would you live for eternity?