Tag Archives: life

On immortality: a very human desire

If presented with the fountain of youth, would you drink?

People have entertained the idea of immortality across time. Greek mythology tells of the phoenix, a bird capable of rebirth. The prominence of comics as a publication medium early in the twentieth century gave rise to a slew of superheroes capable of super-regeneration and longevity, like Superman and Wolverine. Even Lord Voldemort [SPOILER: highlight to reveal] went through the trouble of creating seven horcruxes to secure a strong hold of the living realm. Why are we fascinated with the concept of immortality?

The motivation to discuss immortality is probably related to people’s natural aversion to death and aging. There are plenty of cosmetic products and procedures that generate a lot of revenue by reversing the effects of aging, such as Botox. But what if instead of merely combating the symptoms of aging, you could eliminate it completely?

Certain examples of non-aging exist in nature. Hydras have been observed to not age. While not quite immortal, lobsters have shown to not be strongly affected by age. What can we learn from these organisms?


In DNA replication, DNA polymerase takes up a short space on the sequence that it doesn’t copy, like painting itself into the corner of a room. Image from ClipartHeaven.

At the ends of our DNA strands are sections called telomeres – repeats of nucleotides that prevent degradation of the gene as it replicates over time. Every time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter. After many replications at a point called the Hayflick limit, the telomeres reach a critically short length and the cell stops dividing. In a way, telomere length is like a biological clock that can be used to determine lifespan.

Cells also produce an enzyme called telomerase, which adds nucleotide bases to the ends of telomeres. However, the rate of telomerases’ repair of the telomeres is overcome by the rate of cell division, so telomeres continue to grow shorter and the cell ages.


6_telomere_2 6_telomere_3 6_telomere_4
Telomerase. Here, “senescence” means “old age”. Images from the National Institutes of Health.

So does the answer to immortality lie in telomerases? Not quite. High telomerase activity is detectable in more than 90% of malignant tumours. The action of telomerase can provide cells with the capacity to infinitely replicate – a defining factor of tumour cells.

So where does this bring us? We aren’t any closer to living forever, but average life expectancy has risen over time, owing to advancing medicine and lower infant mortality rates. Still, it is just as interesting to ponder how one might spend lottery winnings as it is amusing to think about what one would do with unlimited time. Perhaps the search shouldn’t be for biological immortality, but to leave an immortal legacy. As A. A. Milne had said, “I suppose that every one of us hopes secretly for immortality; to leave… a name behind him which will live forever in this world.”


“Life Expectancy at Birth by Region 1950-2050” by Rcragun from Wikipedia.

– Trevor Tsang

Possibility of Life in Mars

Mumma, Michael J. in the article “The Search for Life on Mars” states that because of considerable similarities of earth and mars, it may be possible that life exists in some forms in Mars. Although, up to now, there has been no evidence to prove the idea of existence of life in Mars, recent discoveries propose that Mars was once habitable.



Credit: Wikimedia

Scientists have conducted several investigations and researches in order to prove the possibility of life in Mars. Finding factors that are vital for the possibility of life, has been the most important goal for NASA. For example, NASA has done many studies by “Mars curiosity rover” and “Mars opportunity rover”.
For this purpose, scientists use an approach that includes 19 or 20 abiotic factors, with an emphasis of availability of liquid water, presence of nutrients, temperature, sources of energy and protection from cosmic radiation.



                      Curiosity Rover
                    Credit: Wikimedia

Some liquid water may flow on Mars surface, this can happen only under very specific conditions. Due to the atmospheric pressure of Mars water evaporates or freezes quickly. Therefore, it is very hard to find liquid water on Mars.

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                          Water Flowing on Present-day Mars
                                                 Credit: NASA

As we know existence of elements including: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, phosphorus and sulfur are necessary for life. Many. Studies have shown that these elements are present in surface of Mars in some rocks. In turn , this can lead to an increase in possibility of life.

Another parameter that contributes to the possibility of life Mars is energy needed for metabolism. This can either be met by solar energy or geochemical energy.

Temperature also plays an important role in possibility of life. Because of loss of atmosphere in Mars, temperature has decreased significantly during the time.

Finally, because there is no global magnetic field in Mars to protect the planet from the life-threatening cosmic radiation, existence of life may not be probable.

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                                      Wind and radiation on Mars
                                                     Credit: NASA

To sum up, because there is lack of factors that are essential for existence of life in Mars, the idea of existence of life in Mars has a long way to go. However, with advancements in technology, we can hope to discover more evidence needed for life in Mars.

Kamyar Kazemiashtiani