(Another little something I prepared earlier…)
Our daughter’s just drawn my attention to a brief item in the Listener‘s Health page. It reports on claims by Spanish researchers that increasing the amount of telomerase in the body could result in less cell death – &, by extension, longer lives. (Telomerase is the enzyme that repairs the telomeres at the ends of chromosomes. Without it, telomeres get shorter each time a cell – & its chromosome – divides.) Sounds good, doesn’t it? I mean, it would be good if we could live longer, wouldn’t it?
Now, I’m not entirely sure I want to live longer – I have a sneaking suspicion boredom would set in at some point, & besides, there are more than enough people on the planet already without us all living longer & consuming more resources/producing more wastes. (Mind you, it wouldn’t be everybody, would it? More likely to be only those who could afford whatever treatment was necessary.) But there are a couple of other issues to consider as well.
First up – the claim is based on work done on genetically engineered mice, & mice are not always the best model for what will happen in humans. (We’ve seen this before – in the 1970s the FDA banned the use of the artificial sweetener, saccharin, because it caused bladder cancer in rats. But more work showed that it didn’t have this effect in other test species, only in rats – & only in male rats. The ban was later removed.)
And secondly – there is already a class of cells which are to all intents & purposes immortal. Cancerous cells. Given the terrible damage that they can do, I’m not so sure that I would be keen to see the amount of telomerase in normal cells increased. (& it would have been interesting to hear more about those Spanish mice – what was the incidence of various cancers, compared to a non-GE group?)