Biological Immortality and You

A bridge is about to be crossed, then burned. Which side will you be on? 

March 27, 2013 (LocalOrg) - Old age and resulting death is a condition, and like all conditions it can, and will inevitably be treated. Already in nature, evolution has left certain organisms endowed with what is known as "biological immortality," where the cells of the organism are continuously renewed without deteriorating over time. Of course, disease, predation, and environmental conditions can cause the otherwise untimely death of such organisms, but barring these exceptions, in theory they could perpetuate themselves indefinitely.

The New York Times in their 2012 article, "Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality?" reported that: 
Sommer kept his hydrozoans in petri dishes and observed their reproduction habits. After several days he noticed that his Turritopsis dohrnii was behaving in a very peculiar manner, for which he could hypothesize no earthly explanation. Plainly speaking, it refused to die. It appeared to age in reverse, growing younger and younger until it reached its earliest stage of development, at which point it began its life cycle anew. 
The Times also reported on the discovery of what is now called the "immortal jellyfish" and the paper published upon its discovery, "Reversing the Life Cycle," that: 
Yet the publication of “Reversing the Life Cycle” barely registered outside the academic world. You might expect that, having learned of the existence of immortal life, man would dedicate colossal resources to learning how the immortal jellyfish performs its trick. You might expect that biotech multinationals would vie to copyright its genome; that a vast coalition of research scientists would seek to determine the mechanisms by which its cells aged in reverse; that pharmaceutical firms would try to appropriate its lessons for the purposes of human medicine; that governments would broker international accords to govern the future use of rejuvenating technology. But none of this happened.   
However, it is very unlikely that "none of this happened." Since the beginning of recorded history, man, and in particular, the ruling elite have sought - after conquering all else - to defeat the last threat to the ill-gotten wealth and power they have accumulated over their lifespans - death. It is said the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, died of mercury poisoning while experimenting with potions thought to grant extended life.The Philosopher's Stone was pursued throughout the Middle Ages by alchemists both for its ability to transmutate lead into gold, and for its role in producing an "elixir of life" granting its users immortality.

It is only in modern times that mainstream talking points seem to encourage people to crawl into their graves contently and without struggle, with even national health care systems writing off patients as hopeless and drains on the system, better off dead. Strange that as technology now stands to grant humanity one of its most sought-after goals, we face what seems a concerted effort to acquaint the general population with the concept of gladly embracing death.

The Science Behind Human Biological Immortality 

The so-called "immortal jellyfish" has developed through evolution its ability to cheat death. But what progress has science made in translating such a feat into success for species that have evolved without the means of defeating age-related deterioration? The US National Institute of Health republished a 2008 report titled, "Telomere elongation and prolongation of lifespan in rats by unblocking of telomere caps," the abstract of which included: 
Telomeres are the ends of chromosomes and are non-coding DNA "end-capped" with structures containing DNA-quadruplexes and proteins. Telomeres become shorter after each cell division, which is one of the mechanisms of gradual ageing. 
The abstract continues with:
This experiment shows that telomeres were elongated by the combination of hypoxia activated telomerase and a newly developed pharmacological method removing the telomere cap when this combined method was applied to the human lymphocyte culture and the Wistar rats. Rats from the control group died at the age 1 year 7 month - 1 year 8 month, which is typical for the Wistar rats from our sub-line. Rats from the experimental group died at the age 2 year 4 month. The result Morris's labyrinth water test showed the better spatial memory function of rats passed the telomere stabilization therapy. The results of these experiments show the significant role of telomere stabilization therapy in prolongation of lifespan.
In short, the DNA of each cell of most species have caps at the end to protect the DNA during cell division. Each time cells divide, these caps get shorter until eventually, the DNA itself begins deteriorating with each cell division - thus bodily functions, both internal and external, begin to deteriorate as well, causing aging and eventual death. The therapy carried out by researchers using lab rats sought to extend and stabilize these "caps," granting the test subjects unnaturally long lives.

Gizmag's 2010 article, "Harvard team successfully reverses the aging process in mice," reported:
The aging process - it's undignified, unwanted, and many would say unnecessary. After all, the cells in your body are constantly replacing themselves – why can't they do it without causing progressive degradation of organs that lead to discomfort, weakness and death? Well, perhaps they can. Harvard scientists have discovered that by controlling certain genetic processes in mice, they can not only slow down the aging process, but "dramatically" reverse it throughout the body. It's a massive discovery, but it won't be able to be used in humans yet without some pretty scary consequences.
Theory no more, the science of extending life at a cellular level is a reality, one that can and inevitably will be translated to human patients.

The science of life extension doesn't stop with stabilizing telomeres. As the field of genetics and synthetic biology expand, the ability to sequence, understand, analyze, re-sequence, and reintroduce DNA into a patient will open new doors to both the treatment of disease, and regenerative medicine, including the regeneration of cells from a state of age or environmentally-induced deterioration back to a younger, healthier state.

Already, through the process of gene therapy (re-sequencing and reintroducing an improved version of a patient's DNA), diabetes has been cured in dogs, lung cancer has been treated in rats, and human patients with terminal leukemia have given a second chance at life. The current limitations involve our ability to read and rewrite DNA with the level of genetic "literacy" necessary to take a patient's DNA and extrapolate what it should look like, re-write it and reintroduce it into their body on a full-spectrum scale to achieve full "biological immortality."

However, the ability to do this is being developed through a wide variety of research and competitions.

Genetics & Synthetic Biology - Accessible for Everyone 

While the reading, writing, rewriting, and reintroduction of DNA into human patients is still in the realm of highly trained professionals with vast resources at their disposal, the field of genetics and synthetic biology is not  exclusively "super science." In fact, genetics and synthetic biology are increasingly becoming more accessible to a greater number of people as technology and information continue to advance and disseminate around the world. Computers and the Internet make both the tools for participating in such fields more accessible, as well as the knowledge necessary to use such tools.

Video: Professor Jamie Davies, Professor of Experimental Anatomy, presents "Synthetic Biology: the potential and the problems of re-engineering life."

As a result, there is a burgeoning DIYbio (Do-It-Yourself Biology) movement (VIDEO) - with local labs open to the public where everything from DNA extraction and DNA fingerprinting to gene splicing is taught and executed in a safe and educational environment.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) annual iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) competition includes university students and now even high school students. The competition involves developing new genetic sequences, introduced into viruses and bacteria, changing their characteristics into something that can be useful. An example used in, "Creating Life - The Ultimate Engineering Challenge" (YouTube), involves a bacteria re-engineered to change color when it comes in contact with a particular water-borne parasite. The bacteria could theoretically be used in testing kits to determine the potability of water around the world.

While re-egineering bacteria is not exactly human gene therapy, a lot of the techniques, equipment, and theory is the same. By developing an understanding and competence in iGEM-style exercises, the general population would be better poised at tackling the more advanced challenges human medicine presents us with. And by high schools and universities developing their pyhsical and academic infrastructure to participate in iGEM-style competitions and challenges, they collectively expand the fields of genetics and synthetic biology, including increasing our human capital, thus making progress toward greater achievements faster and more profound.

But do people realize the end game? Do people re-egineering bacteria in high school and university labs, while reading headlines about the latest breakthrough in gene therapy, understand the future that potentially awaits us?

DARPA, the Malthusian Paradigm, and Burning Bridges 

The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA as it is more widely known, is actively involved in genetics and synthetic biology research. Wired reported in its Pentagon-friendly "Danger Room," in an article titled, "Pentagon Looks to Breed Immortal ‘Synthetic Organisms,’ Molecular Kill-Switch Included," that:
The Pentagon’s mad science arm may have come up with its most radical project yet. Darpa is looking to re-write the laws of evolution to the military’s advantage, creating “synthetic organisms” that can live forever — or can be killed with the flick of a molecular switch.
Wired continued by reporting: 
The project comes as Darpa also plans to throw $20 million into a new synthetic biology program, and $7.5 million into “increasing by several decades the speed with which we sequence, analyze and functionally edit cellular genomes.”
Wired never directly answers the question as to what exactly the Pentagon wants with "immortal organisms," or what "organisms" these would even be, but mention is made of the above cited experiments with rats involving gene therapy, suggesting the possibility that human biological immortality might be on the table. The mention of "increasing by several decades the speed with which we sequence, analyze and functionally edit cellular genomes" would be the exact area of focus necessary for achieving human biological immortality. 

DARPA also has begun programs aimed at outsourcing research, collecting genetic sequences created by researchers and standardizing them into a library it can then use for whatever means the Pentagon and its corporate-financier sponsors desire behind closed doors. Wired again reports from its "Danger Room," this time in an article titled, "Pentagon’s New Factory: Your DNA":
Darpa is sick and tired of waiting around for Mother Nature. Instead, it wants to take the life-making business into its own hands — and manufacture new biological forms in a factory of mix-and-match bio-bits.
A recent call for research by the Pentagon’s mad science agency proposes a new program called “Living Foundries.” The idea is to use biology as a manufacturing platform to “enable on-demand production of new and high-value materials, devices and capabilities.”

In other words, let’s engineer life to make stuff we want.

The fields of bioengineering and synthetic biology have already produced some useful, scary and flat-out bizarre entities. Besides renewable petroleum or steel strong spider silk, there are all sorts of potential therapeutic, industrial and agricultural purposes for reorganized DNA.
While Wired attempts to pander to "geek culture," making DARPA sound "hip" and "cool," in reality one can scarcely imagine more dangerous hands such technology could be in, or what absolute folly it would be for researchers to work on, and then turn into the Pentagon the building blocks for such an incredibly powerful set of genetic and synthetic biological tools. The dangers of the so-called "DARPA vacuum" have already been warned against in great detail.

It is clear that DARPA, the Pentagon, and the corporate-financier interests that direct both, are incredibly interested in harnessing the power of synthetic biology. Like the Internet, these interests can be kept in check if the population is educated and technically competent enough to ensure no one power gains an overwhelming monopoly over such technology. Already, with the advent of DIYbio and the increasing popularity of MIT's iGEM competition, it appears that the opportunity for monopolizing the field of genetics and synthetic biology is already slipping away.

But what if the population was convinced to pursue a philosophy that blinded people to the potential advances we stand to achieve? What if people could be convinced to just crawl into their graves willingly after learning to enjoy a life of increasingly limited resources and liberties? That is just what the Malthusian paradigm aims at achieving in the minds of billions around the planet - a paradigm that literally seeks to burn the bridges behind the global elite as they achieve biological immortality and resource abundance, while denying it to a condemned and self-euthanized humanity.

From fuax-environmentalism that encourages us to do less, with less, while leaving multinational corporations free to continue pillaging the planet on a global scale, to the human-hating population control polices encouraged by Western governments and even across the United Nations, humanity is being encouraged to whither and die as a "solution" to a series of manufactured, fabricated, and otherwise artificial crises, both social and environmental.

If humanity falls for these tricks, it will forsake enjoying perhaps the greatest achievements we have ever made. The paradigm, in technological terms is shifting in favor of both the masses and the environment, and should we take the time to develop an understanding and interest in liberating fields such as personal manufacturing, 3D printing, decentralized infrastructure, genetics and synthetic biology we can not only cross the bridge into the future together, we can ensure that it is guarded for all time so that all others may follow.

Real solutions don't involve protests, political slogans, or elections. They involve small steps taken each day by determined, and far-sighted individuals, collectively working together for our collective best interests. Something as simple as researching and talking about topics like synthetic biology or 3D printing can help place these first, small steps in the right direction. The problems we face, created by insidious, persistent, and patient individuals will be countered by nothing less than patient persistent pragmatism. If a future of resource abundance, biological immortality, and the conquest of cancer, diabetes, and other maladies that have plagued us for generations sounds like something you can get behind - drop the placards, leave the polls, switch off Fox and CNN, and spend your free time at a local hackerspace, DIYbio lab, or by building your own.

The future is what we make of it, and if with our own two hands we are making nothing, we have no future.