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The Holy Grail of Science

by Paras Chopra

Imagine playing football at the age of 239 with your grand-grand-grand children. Imagine donating blood at the age of 172. Imagine traveling into an inter-galactic spaceship to the andromeda galaxy. Imagine not getting common cold at all. And imagine not having to see those AIDS awareness ads because AIDS being a history, taught in Medieval History-101. And imagine living to see Indian football team qualify for FIFA world cup. No, you are not being taken to utopia; instead, I’m trying to propel your minds towards the future, which is nearer than ever before.

The fear of death is the most common of the all phobias we know. No one wants to die. To imagine death is the worst punishment one can ever give. History has seen many heroes abandoning their quests just because they feared death. People may spend their fortune on treatments without guarantees of 100% recoveries. Now the question arises, if death is so dreadful then why it is so common?

Death rides following reasons:

* Hunger: This factor is a major cause of deaths in poorer nations. There are many organizations working to free the food distribution process from bureaucracy but a lot of work still needs to be done.

* Accidents: These are mainly caused to negligence and carelessness. In this high-tech convergent world everyone is busy with his personal bunch of gizmos, unaware of the precautionary measures. This carelessness isn’t safe. In nutshell, people are just too busy.

* Wars: This is the most shameful aspect of human species. Wars can be avoided and with them million of deaths. Only some social engineering is needed. Governments spend most of their GDP on defense research. This money can be put into more useful bio-researches leading to fewer diseases and lower mortality rate.

* Natural disasters: The inevitable factor. At present we can only predict but can not prevent natural disasters. We are left at mercy of our so called Mother Earth unless we colonize other planets.

* Ageing: Evolution made the humans mortal. Our bodies are just here to reproduce and nurture our kids to a level where they can reproduce. Then, biologically, our bodies become worthless – Telomeres have to shed its size. They are not required by the evolutionary process anymore, so we die.

* Diseases: Survival of the fittest. Charles Darwin gave the world this famous theory. It implied that we survive to be fit. And if we’re diseased we cannot be fit. When those tiny pathogenic agents attack our body we fall sick. This is because they are genetically fitter than, us, the mighty humans. Our bodies were not made to fight these agents and we fall prey to their attack. There are two ways to attack the disease. Either change our bodies (genome) to be able to fight or hinder the functioning of the agents or eliminate them. Either way it is difficult so, presently, we are left with our sickening genome which we are unable to edit. Its mutation is left to evolution alone.

Well accidents can be prevented if awareness about their prevention is spread. This is the area where mass media has to play its role. And Wars can be prevented by peace movements and social engineering. And as far as natural disasters are concerned we can only plead to engineers to make structures safer. It is their duty to make structures capable of coping with the natural disasters suffering minimum damage to lives. But, it is the last two factors namely ageing and diseases, which are being described as The Holy Grail of Science.

As we all know, our bodies are governed by genes which control just about everything about our body. Be it our physical appearance or resistance to diseases or intelligence (much debated) or inner functioning, every damn thing is controlled by our genes. It is said that if we can control genes we can control the course of evolution. It is like riding the car of evolution, the human species being driver, passenger being earth and genes as its steering wheel.

It has been scientifically proven that every cell in our body has a type of biological clock called telomere. This clock tells the cell when to stop dividing. If a cell is unable to reproduce then new cells are not born, hence our body dies. This is called ageing. The scientists today are trying to edit the genes thus instructing cells to make longer telomere or altogether abandon the concept of telomere which can result in indefinite life span. If scientists are ever able to achieve this then it could bring a revolution. Then we’ll be able to keep body deteriorating effects of age at a bay and enjoy the full energetic life of youth at the age of 100. But even then, job would be half done.

The next front of the battle would be ‘Diseases’. Even if we’re able to live up to 100 or more then what will keep our body protected from all those silly disease causing agents? The current method of medication will become useless very soon as more and more virus, bacteria, etc. are developing immunity against our body mechanism and the medicines. The fact that these agents mutate very rapidly makes them survive longer and longer. But the humans have not changed at all. We are not able to mutate/change naturally as rapidly as these agents. So, it proves to be a disadvantage to us.

One way to get over this issue is to change our genes artificially. As a positive note the complete human genome has been mapped and now it is the duty of the genetic engineers to make use of it and find a way to develop a fool-proof mechanism against these agents. Once we do this we can have very own personalized medicines or would be requiring no medicines at all. The personalized medicines will work in coordination with our immunity system. It would change the immunity system to make it capable of immunizing us to all new pathogens which our body does not know of. Then slowly, according to survival of the fittest, all the pathogens will be wiped out of existence.

The infinite life span raises many ethical questions. Also, genetic engineering has raised moral/ethical issues world wide. But it is for socialists and politicians to sort out these issues. Scientists only know one way, which is the future. No matter how hard these politicians try to prevent them from achieving this but one day or the other they will achieve this. And then we will live indefinitely and who knows this breakthrough might happen within our lifetime. And after that, we see Indian soccer team win FIFA world cup in 2147 AD.

About the Author

Paras Chopra was born in Patiala, Punjab, India on 3rd June 1987. His interests lie in subjects ranging from Nanotechnology to Biotechnology to Artificial Intelligence.
His goal in life is to achieve immortality. Visit him at his site.