Could science get as scary as having the ability to prevent death? Agreeably, we all expect an end to our lives and the lives of everyone else around us, but what if we didn’t need to? What if that could be the least of our concerns, if death could be prolonged with the request of a scientist? Interestingly, a Harvard study tells me, “Yes, it’s a possibility.”
Immorality in Cancer
If there’s a significant difference to distinguish cancer cells and normal cells, it’s that cancer cells don’t seem to die. Why is that so? Could the reason make a contribution to immorality in organisms? First, we need some science background.
The Role of Telomeres and Telomerase
Sadly, with every DNA replication, chromosomes shrink in size as enzymes in DNA replication can’t copy a chromosome to it’s very last gene. Before I explain, you would think that we would lose important genes all the time. However, that’s where telomeres play their role. Importantly, they act as caps on a chromosome’s ends, holding repetitive DNA sequences that can be disposed instead. Consequently, once they are all disposed of, our chromosomes can no longer be fully copied. Subsequently, it results in aging symptoms. Luckily, telomerase plays a role in these situation for some cells.
Specifically, telomerase is an enzyme that lengthens telomeres. Using an RNA molecule that it binds to as a template, it extends the DNA strands of chromosomes. Afterwards, the usual DNA process takes place to create the opposite side of the DNA strand. Successfully, this increases the length of telomeres.
Telomeres and Telomerase in Cancer
Oddly, cancer cells have shortened telomeres. Where does their immorality come from? As many of you have probably already guessed, telomerase is active in these cells, extending the telomeres of cancer cells. Thus, studies in manipulating the telomerases in cancer is a hot topic for many cancer researchers.
Especially for scientists, the immorality of cancer cells brings us to question, “Can the very substances that make cancer cells immortal, make other cells immortal?” In a Harvard experiment, scientists activated and “switched on” telomerase genes in mice with age-related sicknesses, using a specific gene and hormone. Would the experiment result in immortal mice?
Shockingly, the experiment showed the fascinating results of prolonged death. Most importantly, the mice did not develop cancer. From a larger brain to a reversed rate of tissue degeneration, scientists had actually reverse-aged mice. On the contrary, though they lived longer than they were expected to, they did not surpass the life span of a normal mouse. Experiments on people have yet to happen, but until then, reverse-aging seems to be a fascinating mystery lying in the darkest, scariest corners of science.
“Telomeres and Telomerase.” Khan Academy, Khan Academy, www.khanacademy.org/science/biology/dna-as-the-genetic-material/dna-replication/a/telomeres-telomerase.
“Telomere.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Nov. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telomere.
Saltus, Richard. “Partial Reversal of Aging Achieved in Mice.” Harvard Gazette, Harvard Gazette, 28 Nov. 2010, news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/partial-reversal-of-aging-achieved-in-mice/