Young Blood and The Thread of Life

Things come in threes and when they do, I start to see shapes in the clouds.

Creativity, after all, is putting together what already exists–often in some other person’s work or thoughts or writings–in novel ways to make them your own.

And while I no longer go to the trouble to spin such patterns into finished pieces for print or blog, I still spend more time than I probably should pursuing  the “story” that seems to lie at the end of those three clues. Three soon turns to a dozen, and by the end of the quest, having read that much on the same topic, I feel like it was worth my time. A short blog post may or may not pop up like a mushroom one morning.

And here it is,  a few words only–the above-ground part of a much larger creature not yet visible: the research on the secret to human aging and memory.

It’s sort of a hot topic these days, one, because there are so many of us experiencing our six and seventh and eighth decades and we notice we’re not in Kansas anymore. Why can’t we remember, digest, sleep, climb stairs, and stay up past eight? What the heck is happening, and can’t something be done to bring about a more vigorous decline?

And the second thing is that several lines of research and new kinds of tools are making it possible to understand aging (starting with the living model of yeast cells and mice). As often happens there are synergies among initially disparate lines of research where one investigation provides the AHA moment and tool for another in a country far away.

Things come in threes:

Klotho, a cell-bound enzyme coded for by a gene. If you have lots of it, you age better and keep your memory better than those who lack the gene. Klotho (or Clotho) was the Greek goddess who weaves together the thread of life. Genes now can be custom-created. Figure out where this is going.

And the tool to expedite a good bit of this research is called “*synthetic biology.” Hang onto your hats.

It has recently been learned that plasma transfusions from young mice can REVERSE biological markers of aging in old mice. Klotho may be involved, but there are other fountain-of-youth agents we will be hearing more about.

Lastly, in following my curiosity about melatonin which we take occasionally for sleep (the lack thereof one of the symptoms of our age) it turns out that this hormone from the pineal gland (but also produced widely in the body) has myriad bio-effects  that include a possible impact on aging.

* Synthetic biology can go a lot of different ways, but one of them would have “open source modular biology-building kits” widely available (hopefully among those who are careful and not evil) to do in short order what the university-driven patent process takes much much longer to bring about.

So while you’ve heard of longevity research for decades, the fruits of its labor may be available for your or your children’s aging brains and vessels and hearts and muscles.

The question remains: what are we going to do with 12 billion people 3/4s of whom are 70 or older?

There are fruits falling from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil faster than we can pick them up, much less ask the hard, far-term questions about taking a bite.

The term “engineering mentality” comes to mind, once defined as “If it can be done it should be done.” Now, there’s no should or ought. Those are judgments  that at least hint at a moral-ethical filter. I’d say this mentality in our times says “If it can be done, it WILL be done.”

So just get out of the way while the script is being written. The Matrix meets Frankenstein meets Terminator in the office of the NSA. Interesting times we live in, and maybe live LONG LONG LONG.

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BBC News – New blood ‘recharges old brain’, mouse study suggests

Brain-Boosting Hormone Improves Cognitive Function : Shots – Health News : NPR

Will Synthetic Biology Evolve Into the Next Hot Field? |

Methuselah Foundation

Melatonin – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. The possibilities both scare and excite me. At 73, I regularly wish I still possessed the stamina I had just a few years ago. I don’t enjoy the downsides of growing older, and I try to block them wherever I can.
    But the benefits of scientific research can turn negative later, especially in the hands of those who eschew ethics. Let us devoutly hope that those who continue this research have only the highest motives in mind.

  2. I read that huge Wikipedia article about melatonin because I take it every night. I have no idea if it helps, but now that I have read it is a good antioxidant, I guess I’ll keep throwing it in the pill box. I am starting to slow down significantly, too, at only 71!