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No. 92: Mar-Apr 1994

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Is immortality only a mutation away?

Here follows the lead sentence of the abstract of a recent letter to Nature :

"We have found that mutations in the gene daf-2 can cause fertile, active adult Caenorhabditis elegans hermaphrodites to live more than twice as long as wild type."

(Kenyon, Cynthia, et al; "A C. elegans Mutant That Lives Twice as Long as Wild Type," Nature, 366:461, 1993.)

Comment. C. elegans is a roundworm only about a millimeter long. Roughly a thousand cells make up its tiny body, and scientists have charted the birth and death of each cell from egg to adult. This roundworm's life is a mosaic of changing cells, as some die to make way for new cells with different agendas. Somehow this programmed sequence of cell death and birth can be slowed down by mutations and thus increase longevity.

Wouldn't any mortal speculate that perhaps human longevity might, like that of C. elegans, be extended by modern gene manipulators? Sure, it's quite an extrapolation from roundworm to human, but our cells are programmed just like those of C. elegans. Change a gene here and there, and we might all live as long as Noah!

From Science Frontiers #92, MAR-APR 1994. � 1994-2000 William R. Corliss