I recently found out I was dying.
I recently found out I was dying.
I came to the unpleasant discovery during a recent visit to the home of one of the veteran professors in the Israeli academy. His head is hairless, wrinkled and full of old age spots. His eyes are closed, and he barely measures on a walker. The disease of madness - dementia - attacked him, and he himself is aware of it: he can hardly remember his name, but he is constantly aware that he is no longer the person he was. He lost himself, to old age.
I sat on the worn sofa and tried to ignore the most gruesome sight: on the wall of his house, in front of me, hung a picture of the man together with his bride, at their wedding that took place many decades ago. The photo sent me tingles of anxiety, because when the photo was taken the happy groom was ten years younger than me. And I knew - I too am walking on his path to disability, to madness, to death. I'm dying too, slowly and surely. And you too.
Is there a solution? This question will be at the center of the upcoming blog articles.
The man you see before you is the inventor of the telephone - Alexander Graham Bell. When he was already steeped in money and respect, he decided to switch fields and conduct statistical scientific research on old age. He researched the family of one of America's founding fathers, one William Hyde, all 8797 of whose descendants were recorded and recorded. After going over their record, Bell determined that longevity is inherited. Modern and more extensive studies have shown that he was right, and many cases of longevity are indeed inherited. But the truth is that although the initial data collected by Bell were inconclusive, he was a multi-millionaire and began to plan a human improvement institution.
Unlike the Nazis and their ilk, who tried to improve the human race mainly through mass extinctions, Bell followed a pleasant path. He wanted to go to schools and ask children how old their parents and grandparents were. He wanted to publish this data, along with the addresses and details of the children, in a matchmaking book which he called, without hesitation, the 'human stud book'. The idea was that people whose genes dictated a long life span would marry each other and give birth to children whose genetics would give them an even longer life than their parents, and so on. And what about the short-lived people? Well, they just won't marry, or they'll marry each other, have even shorter-lived children, and slowly die out of the population. perfect.
There is no doubt that Bell was truly a visionary with good intentions, and maybe just a little crazy. And maybe not as crazy as we think, because the ultra-orthodox have developed a similar matchmaking system, in which they avoid pairings between two carriers of harmful mutations that could reinforce each other in the next generation. Still, if Bell's experiment had been successful, for all we know, the results would have been amazing. There is almost no doubt that by breeding and mating people with long life spans, a 'breed' of long-lived people would have been obtained. We can guess this from an experiment from the eighties of the last century, during which researchers tried to create a species of long-lived flies.
A fruit fly is able to start reproducing at the age of two weeks - almost as soon as it leaves its nest. At the age of ten weeks, he is already very old - about as old as a ninety-year-old human. Male flies do not survive to such an extreme age, and the few surviving females that can, have already consumed their metabolic reserves, their legs are weak and their wings are down. But they are still only able to lay a few more eggs. And the researchers used those eggs to breed young fruit flies, let them grow old and mate with each other - then collected the eggs laid by the newly aged females, and the process was repeated for several dozen generations. They actually created an artificial selection here that encouraged survival and fertility in old age. As these traits became more common, the lifespan of flies increased at an extraordinary rate. After only ten generations of selective breeding, the lifespan of the flies increased by an average of 30%. After fifty generations, life expectancy has doubled - equivalent to more than 150 years of life in a modern-day human.
From this research we can draw a very simple and very important conclusion: at least to some extent, old age is controlled by our genes. Those who are endowed with more appropriate traits in their genome, can better cope with old age. But here we must ask a difficult question: it is clear that old age is a negative trait. Why didn't natural selection sweep away the old woman?
In the next article we will understand why the forces that guide evolution do not really care if we age, and we will learn what the fate of humanity would be if we chose to follow the path of Alexander Graham Bell.
More of the topic in Hayadan:
"Longevity" series by Dr.Roey Tsezana
Longevity - Part One: The Road to Eternal LifePart two - the evolution that killed me
To stop death - third part in the series, "longevity of life": the hunger for life
Longevity, Part 4 When Breathing Kills: Free Radicals and Aging
Keeping death at bay: the telomere theory. Fifth article in the longevity series