Thursday, December 16, 2010

Eternal Youth?

Scientists at Harvard Medical School have succeeded in reversing some of the effects of aging in mice:

Fountain of Youth

They worked with telomeres, strings of DNA information at the ends of chromosomes. With age, these strands wear out. After inducing premature aging in mice, the researchers stimulated the telomeres to repair themselves, restoring the mice to youthful condition.

As the song says, "Who wants to live forever?" Not I! However, if I could live to about the century mark with no aches and pains, no degenerative diseases, no loss of sensory or mental functions, I'd gladly accept the treatment.

If "youthening" therapy ever becomes feasible for human beings, would it be available to everyone? Or would it be so expensive that only an elite class could enjoy its benefits? As dramatized in books such as Heinlein's METHUSELAH'S CHILDREN, such a scenario might lead to social upheaval with potentially explosive results. Heinlein, with an optimistic view of human technological advances (in his early works, at least), doesn't let the mortal-immortal dichotomy lead to disaster in the long run. When the Howard Families eventually return to Earth, they discover that even though they were never hoarding a "secret" of eternal youth at all, in their absence scientists looking for the nonexistent secret have invented rejuvenation techniques on their own. In the much later novel TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE, though, we find that "ephemerals" still harbor enough suspicion toward the "Methuselahs" that the Howard Families keep a low profile and in some cases (as with Lazarus Long and his clan) withdraw to their own enclaves on distant worlds.

If just trying to ensure that everyone has access to basic health care sparks bitter conflict, how can we suppose the discovery of the "fountain of youth" wouldn't produce another layer of division between haves and have-nots?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt


  1. How true! I don't think it would be as great as it sounds.

  2. I love how interesting your articles are.