Science » Technologies and discoveries
Author`s name Ольга Савка

Modern scientists succeed in the quest for immortality

Wild nature can give numerous examples of immortality and programmed death

A wise man said that the art of living was about being able to die young but to live as many years as possible. Almost every human being living on planet Earth is interested in the question of immortality. One may say that all world religions and arts sprang from the wish to preserve the passion of youth and deceive death. Generations of alchemists were racking their brains over the renowned youth elixir. Contemporary scientists are still trying to unveil the mystery of immortality: they are working with mitochondria – so-called power plant of a cell, which generates power owing to the adenosine triphosphoric acid synthesis. The works in this direction are being conducted most actively in several countries of the globe, in Russia and England first and foremost.

Russian academician, Vladimir Skulachev, from the Institute of the Physicochemical Biology of the Moscow State University has made the biggest progress on the way to realize the biggest dream of the mankind. “Old age is virtually an illness. It must be cured like cancer. If I cure a person of his old age, I will cure him of cancer too, age diseases. I am not talking about immortality, there are accidents and catastrophes. The death rate on this index was higher than the natural death rate a hundred years ago. Now we have an opposite situation,” the academician said.

Oxygen is a strongest oxidant, which allows to burn food and produce energy in cells. Toxic forms of oxygen, however, are capable of penetrating through the cellular membrane and causing instant damage to genes. A cell has protection mechanisms, although it may give up its own defense sometimes. There is a scheme of voluntary death in nature, or programmed cell death, the apoptosis. The scheme works when a cell has to be removed from the reproduction process. World science has studied the apoptosis of one separate cell. When Skulachev says that the apoptosis rules the life of a whole organism, very few specialists agree with him. The academician, however, is certain that senescence and death is a program that nature “downloaded” in the genes. It is difficult to hack this program and destroy the program, which makes human life so short. 

Vladimir Skulachev has been winning more and more proponents recently. In 2003 the scientist received the grant of $120 thousand from Russian aluminum tycoon Oleg Deripaska. The scientist tried to test his “immortality elixir” on mice in 2004. A mouse lives for two or three years, so one will have to wait for the results of the experiment. In 2005, Skulachev plans to test the miraculous substance on aquarium fish, worms and flies, whose life span lasts for 1.5 months. “I can only imagine what the press would write about academician Skulachev, if I became successful in extending the life of a fly first,” academician Skulachev ironically said.

The medicine that the scientist used in the experiment was developed by Russian chemists. It is a very strong antioxidant, which stops oxygen from getting inside a cell. Antioxidant possesses a positive charge, on account of which a mitochondria accumulates a much stronger negative charge. It is a mitochondrion that ruins people's attempts to extend their lives. Now it is possible to accumulate excessive charges in mitochondria and save the cell from oxygen radicals.

Experiments on mice and insects will be followed with trials on apes and humans. If scientists manage to prove the hypothesis, a human being will be able to live up to 800 years.

English geneticist from the University of Cambridge, Dr. Aubrey de Grey, works with mitochondria too. The scientist believes that the life span of a human being will reach a thousand and even more years. De Greay chairs the SENS project at Cambridge (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence), which studies all possibilities to solve the epoch-making problem. The project's first priority is connected with the restoration of seven major types of molecular and cellular damage. De Grey said that he would need ten years to develop a solution for mice and another ten years to bring the technology into the world of humans.

”When we get these therapies, we will no longer all get frail and decrepit and dependent as we get older, and eventually succumb to the innumerable ghastly progressive diseases of old age. We will still die, of course - from crossing the road carelessly, being bitten by snakes, catching a new flu variant etcetera - but not in the drawn-out way in which most of us die at present,” the English researcher said.

Needless to say that there are a lot of scientists, who do nothing but laugh at the idea of working on the issue of immortality. Professor Jay Olshansky from the University of Illinois at Chicago said sarcastically that the temptation of immortality would live a lot longer than those who follow it.

Professor Bogomolets promised to conquer senescence during the Soviet era. The government of the USSR assigned huge finds to the professor, but he died in his sixties. Nobel Prize winner Ilya Mechnikov continued the quest, but he passed away too.

Wild nature can give numerous examples of immortality and programmed death without any visible reasons. Bacteria can live forever in laboratory conditions. Cancer cell lines, which were made 100 years ago, are still alive. Cloning plants are immortal too. There are certain bird species that die without any indications of senescence, when they lose the reproductive capacity.

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