today i learned – tues 13th june 2017

once upon a time, one of my fellow students raised their hand and asked our gcse science teacher – “sir, why do people grow old?” πŸ‘΄πŸ» (there wasn’t actually an emoji involved … they weren’t a thing back then).

the reply that sir gave was little more than “scientists don’t actually know … your cells always regenerate, so in theory you should live forever!” πŸ€”. he wasn’t wrong back then … the clever dudes and dudettes in white lab coats had no idea. now, however, it turns out that they do πŸ‘©πŸ»β€πŸ”¬.

#tdil the reason why we grow old and why scientists can’t make us immortal πŸ‘΅πŸ» … prepare yourself people, this could be the most intellectual thing on the blog to date πŸ€“. 

(**note from me after having written the rest of this article … i tried to keep it short πŸ˜… but it just wasn’t possible 😭. that said, it’s fascinating and won’t take you long to read! enjoy!**)

when you think about it, what my gcse science teacher said doesn’t seem all that silly … i mean, if your cells are continually regenerating, then why would you ever grow old? surely they just keep doing the same thing forever and you should continue to live? after lots of research (some of it because some celebs want to live forever) scientists now have a better understanding of the aging process πŸ‘πŸ».

as you’d probably expect, it all comes down to your cells – more specifically, the tips of your dna molecules. in the past, this has been an overlooked part of the dna molecule due to the fact it doesn’t really include anything important. 

named ‘telomeres’, it’s actually pretty darn important that these parts don’t have any important information on them. you see, your dna molecules are constantly replicating themselves – a process that requires them to split in half in order for them to create a copy of themselves. 

every time the process occurs, the cell loses a piece from the end of the chromosome. when this happens, the telomeres act as a kind of ‘buffer zone’ and ensure that, when a bit of the dna goes awol, no important dna is lost πŸ‘πŸ» #legends. 

as we get older, however, our telomeres inevitably get shorter. when this happens they send a signal to the rest of the cell that causes it to secrete factors that can cause age related dieseases. ultimately, once the telomeres are all gone from that cell, it is unable to replicate itself correctly without losing vital info (because the buffer is gone) ☹️.

think of the buffer lark like this: you’re tied to the top of an upright log 🌲with an axe-wielding maniac (with the strength of a super villain) at the bottom of it 😈. said maniac starts to hack at the log in such a way that a chunk the shape of a tin of tuna flies out every time they take a swing with their axe (πŸ”΄ that shape when viewed from above). the log subsequently gets a little shorter with each swing and you get lower … eventually, all of the log below you will be gone and you’ll be in the firing line 😳 (my sources used much more elegant analogies than this πŸ˜‚ they’re linked below). 

in the case of that analogy, the log was the telomeres and your body was the actual vital bits of dna … just in case you didn’t get that πŸ™ƒ. 

this may all lead you to think: ‘why don’t scientists just find a way to make the telomeres longer? that’d mean that dna could keep replicating itself without errors and you’ll live forevs!’. 

it’s a valid point … in fact, some of your cells are actually immortal due to them having an abundance of an enzyme called ‘telomerase’. this enzyme can switch on and off the production of telomeres … thus rebuilding the buffer and enhancing the lifespan of the cell. 

now, i know what you’re thinking – ‘ideal! just add more of that and we’ll all be immortal 😏’. unfortunately, that’s something that can’t be done due to that awful diesease known as cancer 😠. 

you see, normally when telomeres run out and the dna replicates with an error it’ll be unable to replicate again in the future. cancer cells are able to turn on the production of telomerase to make the cell with errors immortal 😒 … this is how tumours are made. 

effectively, the ongoing shortening of telomeres and subsequent failure of faulty dna replicating itself is an evolutionary feat that helps to prevent you from becoming riddled with tumours 😷 … if you filled yourself with extra telomerase and switched on telomere production forever, you’d just have a real bad time (maybe this is what happened in i am legend πŸ€”)

your body actually carries out a bit of a balancing act when it comes to controlling the levels of telomerase – increase or decrease it even the slightest amount and you’ll be struck with dieseases such as cancer. 

and there you have it, the reason why we age and the reason why we can’t be immortal! πŸ€™πŸ» i had a couple of sources when it came to writing this, so if you’d like to read more of this from some actual clever people just go –>here<– and –>here<–

this has been a long one πŸ˜“ so if you’ve lasted this long, i hope you found it interesting … i did 😬 

right, bedtime 😘 #tdil

_____

wow! the most intellectual thing on the blog ever πŸ˜‚ i doubt you’ll want to read more after that but, if you just can’t get enough, you can see more stuff –>here<–

 

(i thought a long, serious, blog post like this required a less than serious header image πŸ˜‚ it’s a meme … i think i’m allowed to use it #belongstotheinternet)

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