“All of our cell’s ancestors are still alive” – I’d never heard this before. It took me awhile to wrap my brain around the what it meant.
Could that be true?
I thought about it.
Nearly all of my ancestors were already dead. But my cells – what were their ancestors, and are they dead? Hmmm… My cells are from the divisions since I was a fertilized egg in utero. Their ancestors are the egg and sperm from my mother and father. Those cell’s ancestors are from the egg and sperm of their respective mother and father (my grandparents)… these cell lines have not died, even though my gransparents have died. These cell lines continue to live in me. The cell lines go on, even as the individual vessel it rides in ages and dies.
Biology has already solved the problem of mortality. Immortal cells – cells that persist and replicate “forever” – are already here and have been here for millennia!
I sat there, stunned.
Dr. West explained how he learned this while a student of the great Dr. Leonard Hayflick, and how he’s been leading research into how to “transplant” this immortality capacity from the immortal “germ line” reproductive cells to our other cells. [For reasons why this is not easy, see Cracking the Aging Code by Josh Mitteldorf. Evolution has selected for the existing arrangement of programmed death for the individual and “immortality” for only the germ line. It appears to be a well-defended arrangement with redundant “death to the individual” mechanisms in place. ]
Now, West’s company, BioTime, has found out how to “transplant” this cellular “immortality” enough to be able to make pluripotent stem cells from the aged body cells of even a hundred plus year old. These stem cells can and will grow “young” tissues again. They’ve already used them to regenerate the spinal cord of a quadriplegic. They’re able to regenerate the cells behind the eye that are the problem in macular degeneration.
Dr. West announced that he’d just released a series of five YouTube videos called “Path to Immortality”. I’ve yet to track them down, so let me know if you find them and I’ll link them here.