'Immortality' is a word that has great significance in human life. No matter what other achievements science can stake claim to (and there are many amazing ones, no doubt), the ability to control death is not one of them. Sure we have been able to extend life spans, but can we really beat death? Can man become immortal and can he live forever? It seems hard to believe that we can control the life-giving force. Yet, of all things that science will ever achieve, this could be the shining crown jewel. What will happen if and when labs get a hold of the ability to make us immortal and is such power even a welcome one, is a debate for another day. One thing is for sure and that is science will not stop trying. It might fail and fail endlessly in its quest to make man immortal. Time for our civilization and species might run out before we find out the answers. But the pursuit of nature’s biggest mystery- the secret of life and in essence, the ability to conquer death will continue. And here are a few alluring possibilities.
According to Computerworld, author and futurist Ray Kurzweil, anyone who is alive till 2050 could very well try and make himself immortal using nanotechnology. The idea is to have machines that use nanotechnology to flow through our body and repair our damaged and aging cell endlessly to ensure that death is never a possibility. Even in the case of injuries, organ can be re-grown, blood replenished and memories and personalities can be stored in a back up unit which will transmit them back into our brain once trauma is healed. Of course, these self-replicating nano-robots need to be kept under control as they could replicate endlessly otherwise, can rip your own body to shreds. So much for immortality then!
Researchers from The University of Nottingham have been studying a species of flatworm that seems to have an amazing ability to repair its cells and replace the old ones with new ones that do not age. The body constantly replaces the old cells inside it with new ones and the new cells subsequently age. This aging seems to be defined by telomere length and in case of the stem cells of the flatworm species under study, the telomere length of the DNA strand after repair and regeneration seem to be same as those of before. This in essence means that the flatworm does not age and can replace its cells endlessly. Scientists are still trying to unravel the mystery behind how the worm manages to do just that.
While most cells stop dividing, stem cells continue to do so and scientists at the Pasteur Institute in Paris have demonstrated definitively that a stem cell retains its original DNA on division. When a stem cell typically produces two daughter cells, it produces another stem cell and a specialized cell that will contribute to the tissue. According to the ‘Immortal DNA’ theory, the stem cell retains the perfect DNA and it is only the specialized cell that inherits imperfection. By proving this theory beyond doubt, scientists have now paved way for trying to prevent the process of aging in ordinary cells as well by trying to ensure that they too acquire the features of the ‘immortal stem cells’.
The idea here is to try and transfer your thoughts and consciousness into the virtual world and ensure that you live forever as a virtual presence. The idea is simple enough and technology enthusiasts argue that with graphic cards and virtual reality reaching new and unprecedented heights, a simulated artificial world will ensure that you will not feel like you are living in an electronic world. Of course, this is all assuming that our perceptions, our feelings, emotions and our very existence is simply electrical impulses at work. Those who preach Cybernetic Immortality also believe that once we do transfer ourselves into the virtual world, we can always come back in the form of a robotic body. Man with the shell of a machine, is the way Cybernetics perceives immortality.
This is the discovery that even bagged the Nobel Prize in 2009 and for good reason too. A team of scientists led by Australian-born Professor Elizabeth Blackburn discovered the enzyme that can effectively control and even reverse aging in human cells. In essence, this could mean that by controlling and altering this enzyme, one could change the aging process and ensure that we remain ‘Forever Young’. But the enzyme is a double edged sword as it also seems to have an ability to fuel cancer if triggered the wrong way. The challenge now is to try and study how this ‘Immortality Enzyme’ can be controlled and used so that it can ensure we beat the biological clock.
The concept of preserving DNA and turning the DNA that has been carefully stored back into a living being is pretty popular in science fiction. But can it be really achieved? For now there are many DNA Banking companies that promise to do exactly that. They will store your DNA till the day science stumbles upon technology to regenerate a person using just his DNA. While companies like PreventionGenetics and DNA Diagnostics Center offer a chance to store your DNA for a limited period depending on the money you are willing to part with, others like DNA Live Forever say they will store it as long as it takes. Of course, once you are dead, it is not like you can sue them for throwing away your DNA!
The subject reminds us of a flick called ‘In Time’ and how someone who just realized that he can live forever might eventually feel too bored to continue living. While aging might be avoided in a physical sense, can our emotions and thoughts bear an endless stream of input? And if immortality is an option, would it still be available only for the select rich? What can be more precious than the gift of life and a more profitable business than selling it? Science might be able to extend our life span radically in the centuries to come. But immortality might well be an impossibility to achieve. And we would not mind that one bit either as everyone needs a closure.