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Long-Living Life

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2/24/2015 12:19:17 AM
Posted: 1 year ago
When I was younger I heard of California Redwoods living for 2,000 years. I figured that was the hands-down longest living thing in existence. Now I'm realizing that isn't even that impressive:

Some excerpts:
- bacteria was revived after stasis in salt after 240 million years
- an ancient squirrel buried a fruit seed almost 32 thousand years ago that we were able to grow
- Pando, a colony (i.e., arguably one organism based on definition) of aspens in the Western US, weighs six million kilograms and is 80 thousand years old
- the oldest cat was 38 years old
- the oldest human was 122 years old
- the oldest terrestrial animal was a 250 year-old giant tortoise
- whales can live over 200 years

But probably more fascinating than any of this is the concept of biological immortality. Typically, a species dies more rapidly as it gets older. For humans (and I'm guessing on this), our rate of death increases as we age until about age 100. Each year we get older, the chances of us dying creeps up a little. At 100, we have about a 50% chance of dying in any given year. But interestingly, after 100 that percentage levels-off. A 100 year-old has a 50% chance of dying in a year, and a 120 year-old has a 50% chance of dying in a year.

But other species, like lobsters, clams, and sharks, don't experience biological aging. If you have a super-old lobster, it's not going to be more likely to die than a spry young lobster. George the Lobster is 140 years old right now and while he certainly will die at some point, he isn't dying in the sense that elderly humans are pretty-much all dying. Any elderly person you know is dying, we don't talk about them like that but their internal organs are in the process of failing. When elderly visit the doctor, failing organs are typically ignored simply because of the guarantee of them dying of something else much sooner.

In theory, there have been large organisms like tortoises or lobsters (which are biologically-immortal) which have just happened to survive for many centuries. At some point in history it has statistically happened by now; we'll never know for sure, but at some point there was a 500 year-old lobster roaming the seas.

Another interesting thing to note is that we, being very-much NOT biologically-immortal, are actually programmed to die. When our cells reproduce, the genetic telomeres get shorter. This doesn't happen in a shark, for instance. If my limited understanding of genetics is correct, this shortening of the telomeres is how we genetically age (as opposed to physically age). So even if we were to find medicines and such to prolong our lives, it would have to be a genetic effort to truly make a difference. But even if we could genetically enhance ourselves to not degrade our telomeres, it still may be a fruitless effort, because (and I'm really going out on a limb to remember this correctly now) shortened telomeres could be actually healthy, in order to prevent cancer - a disease which is inherently related to our ability to regenerate. By increasing our regenerative abilities, we could be making ourselves more susceptible to regenerative flaws (i.e., cancer).

Anybody wanna jump in here and comment or find a relevant web page and discuss it?