Everything must come to an end one day. At one point everything and everyone will die. Mythology features a whole plethora of immortal gods but we can never emulate them.
Or can we?
A Science Daily article talks about researchers from the University of Nottingham have been studying two types of planarians (flatworms), an asexual one and a sexual one. These worms have nearly infinite regenerative abilities, even able to regrow brains. According to the research, it turns out that it has something to do with the stem cells of these worms.
Normally, when stem cells divide they eventually age, which causes them to loss their ability to divide. This aging is caused by shortened telomeres. Telomeres are “caps” at the end of chromosomes and they work like the aglets of a shoelace. Whenever cells divide DNA must be replicated and each time this happens the telomeres shorten. When these telomeres get too short the cell can no longer divide. There is an enzyme called telomerase which can maintain these telomeres. Humans have them, but they are only active during early development.
The research was centered on a planarian version of the gene that controls telomerase. When the gene was turned down, the telomeres of the planarian was shortened. After that, they measure gene activity and telomere length and saw that asexual worms increased the telomerase gene activity considerably when regenerating, which lets them maintain telomere when they make new tissues. However, this increased telomerase activity was not seen in the sexual worms, despite the fact that they are just as regenerative as the asexual worms. The researcher plan on continuing their research on this topic to find just what is going on with the sexual worms.
This research really is a breakthrough. While we might not ever be truly immortal, being able to regenerate body parts could have valuable medicinal application.
Posted by Joseph Frimpong Feb 29, 2012 (Group A (2))