Are Humans Becoming Immortal?

The quest for eternal life has captivated mankind throughout history Literature from as long ago as 1800 BC tell stories of people seeking immortality

Over two millennia later, many scientists believe that the 21st century could see the first humans with the potential to live forever Some even say this could happen before 2050 Aging statistics prove that this could finally be happening, as populations live longer every year In the early 1900s most people would not have lived more than 50 years But someone born today has a life expectancy of approximately 81 years

And this trend shows no signs of slowing down It is predicted that, within the next 40 years, the number of people aged over 85 will have increased by 351 percent Life expectancy continues to grow because of improved living standards and health care, which has eradicated killer diseases like smallpox Scientific communities even see aging itself as a disease They believe it can be treated like any other, and maybe even cured altogether

Using enzyme manipulation, nanotechnology, and cryonics, we could advance lifespans longer than ever before – possibly even forever And recent scientific breakthroughs mean that the first immortal humans could already be living among us In 2009 Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider [griy-der], and Jack Szostak [shosh-stack] were awarded a Nobel Prize for discovering the enzyme telomerase [tell-oh-mur-ays] Telomerase is vital to the understanding of mortality, because it could provide the key to everlasting life The chromosomes in our bodies are protected by chemical caps, known as telomeres [tell-oh-meers]

Whenever a cell divides and renews itself, the telomere shortens For humans, this can happen 50 to 60 times before a cell dies It’s this degeneration of the telomere that causes the ill effects of ageing Organisms with higher levels of telomerase can maintain their telomere length, and this increases the number of times they can regenerate their cells Lobsters, for example, are believed to renew cells indefinitely, only dying of disease or attack – but never old age

Studies are underway to see how levels of the enzyme can be altered artificially A team at the Spanish National Cancer Centre in Madrid genetically engineered mice that produce 10 times as much telomerase as normal These mice lived twice as long as the control group If it becomes possible to apply this theory to humans, then perhaps the aging process could be eliminated entirely Research into telomerase could also help us eradicate deadly diseases, like cancer – and this would be a huge leap towards immortality

Cancer cells contain 10 to 20 times as much telomerase as normal cells, and that’s what allows them to divide so quickly and grow into malignant tumors The National Cancer Institute is currently looking into whether cancer could be treated by artificially reducing these telomerase levels Scientists are also looking into the benefits of nanotechnology Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil [kurz-while] predicts that, within 25 years, humans could have nanobots installed in their veins These microscopic computers will perform constant cell maintenance, or even repair failing organs

Hypothetically, a human using this technology could live as long as the software And this isn’t just a theory Researchers at MIT are already using nanotechnology to treat illnesses, and even cured ovarian cancer in laboratory mice in 2009 However, this field is still relatively undeveloped, and right now we know little about the long-term implications of nanotechnology on human health Cryonics could also hold the answer to eternal life

This scientific procedure cools individuals’ bodies to around -130C, preserving them until a cure to their ailment is discovered Despite preservation costing between $28,000 and $300,000, Cryonics company Alcor state that over 1,300 people have made arrangements to undergo the process And it’s not just our bodies that might one day be preserved Neuroscientist Ken Hayworth believes there is a real likelihood that, within our lifetime, mankind will be able to store thoughts, memories, and even personalities on a ‘computer’ brain This would allow people to live eternally, even after their physical bodies diminish

But there are numerous obstacles to the mind-to-computer theory Most importantly, the question of whether human consciousness and digital information are even compatible A lot more time, money, and research will need to be invested into the idea of immortality before it yields tangible results Nevertheless, advances in nanotechnology and enzyme manipulation indicate that, in the future, humans could potentially live forever

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