Ever wonder if it is possible to live forever? Scientists already know that it is possible – at least in certain species. Research shows that a remarkable species of flatworms has chromosomal characteristics which defy aging and could theoretically live forever.
A Brief Intro into Why Aging Occurs
To understand how these flatworms can live forever, you first have to understand the basics of why aging occurs. As we develop and age, our cells are replicating. For cells to replicate, they first have to duplicate their DNA content and then split it in half to make two new cells out of the parent cell.
At the ends of DNA strands are telomeres. They are often described like the tips on shoelaces because telomeres keep the DNA strands from fraying or getting damaged in other ways. In humans and almost every other organism, telomeres get shorter each time a cell replicates. When the telomeres get too short, the cell can’t divide anymore and will become inactive or die. This process of cell inactivity/death is associated with the signs of aging – from wrinkles to memory loss.
Flatworms Telomeres Don’t Get Shorter
The intriguing thing about flatworms is that their telomeres don’t shorten as they divide. Because of this, their cells can replicate endlessly – and the flatworms really do have amazing powers of regeneration. If you cut one in half, it will grow a head on the tail side and a tail on the head side! According to researchers at Nottingham University who are studying the longevity of the flatworms, the longer flatworms can even be cut into 20 different parts to make 20 new flatworms!
These researchers believe that the flatworm could live forever since its cells never age. One researcher even used the word “immortal” to describe them. The flatworms usually do die, but because of infections or harm, not from aging.
Using Flatworms to Cure Aging
Even though a cure for aging is not likely anytime soon, the research into the immortality of flatworms shows that a cure could be possible. Researchers are primarily using the knowledge about flatworms’ telomeres to find ways to regenerate organs like livers or hearts – but it could also be used to stop cell damage completely and thus stop aging in its tracks.