Bill Andrews on Telomere Basics: Curing Aging by Bill Andrews by Bill Andrews, Ph.D. and Jon Cornell

Bill Andrews is a local scientist who works for a local company, Sierra Sciences, who is working on “curing” aging.  I came upon him as a speaker at my local book store.  His research is basically trying to stop the length of our chromosome’s telomeres from shortening which he believes is the cause of our aging.  He asserts that we age not because it is natural or a disease but rather, we age, because it is a survival trait that enhances a species’ overall ability to adapt to its environment.  In other words, if older, wiser animals did not age, they would always have a competitive advantage over younger animals, and those younger animals would die off.  You want your young to live and reproduce, because they create mutations, and those mutations may ultimately find new and better ways of taking advantage of the environment or triumphing over other species.  I read an article that asserted that while macro-mutations like being able to fly or swim or breathe on land are important, it is actually more important that we mutate to keep one step ahead of bacteria and viruses that are also mutating at a much faster rate.  In any case, adults need to age and get weaker to make way for the young.

 I have this friend who asserts that we are no longer evolving, and this is basically what Andrews also asserts, hence, he argues, we can afford to dump our aging trait.  I disagree.  Every time a kid gets hit by a car, because he wasn’t looking and ran into traffic, we as a species are evolving.  We are evolving children who are more weary of cars and traffic.  Every time a kid gets sick and dies from a disease, we are evolving children more resilient to diseases.  For whatever reason, every time a kid dies before reproducing and passing on his genes, we are evolving.  On top of this, not only are we evolving genetically, but we are evolving culturally and intellectually.  In other words, imagine if all Baby Boomers were immortal.  Imagine all those Baby Boomers who support Trump and Hillary and support corporations and foreign wars and don’t even believe in climate change, who don’t believe gays should be allowed to marry, who believe in continuing the war on drugs and incarcerating more people per capita than any other nation, imagine them living and voting forever.  We as a nation and species would be screwed.  Millennials tend to be more socially liberal, more tolerant, more conscientious about the environment, less war-mongering, etc.  And I should look at myself.  If I were to be immortal, what biases and faults do I have that I would be perpetuating forever?  I often catch myself thinking or feeling stupid things like an aversion to seeing two guys kissing in public.  That’s something I learned from a long time ago when kids made fun of gays.  Wouldn’t the world be better with people who were raised without any forms of prejudice and cruelty?  Do I deserve to be immortal?  And whether you like it or not, the first ones to get the benefits of not aging are going to be the richest and close to the oldest in society.  Do we really want the rich assholes to live forever?  I think there are a lot more moral issues to wrestle before simplistically arguing that stopping the aging process is wonderful and necessary.  Just like creating artificial intelligence, I’m not entirely sure, we’re imaginative or intelligent enough to foresee the consequences of our actions. 

 The biology of aging is telomeres attach to the ends of chromosomes like caps to complete the DNA replication process.  But they are triggered to fall apart, so some DNA lack these caps and parts fall off, cells cannot replicate.  However, telomerase are enzymes which elongate telomeres.  If telomerase is activated, cells can replicate indefinitely, hence aging stops.  You can’t ingest or inject telomerase, but since telomerase exist in our sperm and egg cells allowing our children to replicate cells and start life anew, they must exist in all our cells since the DNA in every human cell is the same.  It’s just a matter of turning the repressor protein off its binding site on the DNA region near the telomerase gene which stops telomerase from being created.  Simple as that, at least in theory. 

 This brings up the question of life after death.  If there is life after death, then the immortals will be missing out, but is it possible, they would develop the technology to find out if there is in fact life after death?  If we are in a simulation, we should ultimately have the technology to find out for sure, and then we would peek outside the simulation and then decide whether we want to return to the simulation, how often, how long, etc.  When I think of simulations and why one would exist, we have to look at our own simulators.  We use them for entertainment, education, testing interview subjects, social experiments, etc.  Perhaps our simulation provides all these uses.  But one would always wonder, if we get to a point where we can manipulate our environment to provide us with maximum pleasure or enlightenment or happiness, then why would we need simulations to escape that reality?  One possible answer is that the real world cannot be manipulated to our desires, that we choose to exist for the majority of our lives in simulations where we can manipulate the environment. 

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