Monday, May 16, 2011

Measuring the length of the Thread of the Fates.

In Ancient Greek Lore, Three Women who all shared a single eye, measured the length of each person's life by a thread which they cut when the life was to come to an end. In genetics, this is believed to be analogous to the lengths of a repeating "end of file" or EOF marker in computer parlance, at the end of your DNA called telomeres. The number of repeats dictates the length of our lives based on the fact that when cells replicate, the number of telomeres is reduced by one. So in theory, when the number of "EOF" markers reaches zero, then the replication fails resulting in DNA damage which either results in cell death (apoptosis) outright, or cancer/mutation which may or may not result in apoptosis, but will certainly lead to health effects on the body as a whole.

A company in the UK has developed a genetic test in which they compare the number of telomeres still in your DNA to your chronological age and try to extrapolate how long (approximately) you have to live based on this ratio. Now, this is certainly not proven to be accurate, but there is strong evidence that telomeres are a good guide to the longevity of an organism. Cancer cells and Stem cells replicate without reducing the telomere count and are by all accounts appear to be "immortal" for all practical purposes.

The company plans to make this test available to the public in the UK for the equivalent of about $700USD (at current exchange rates). Which begs the question: Is this a good idea? The test of course almost certainly has a fairly wide margin of error, and does not take into account a number of things that may shorten your life such as accident or poor diet/exercise. So someone could get information that they will live a relatively short life and decide there is no point in saving for retirement and blow all their money, or the reverse is true, someone who thinks they will live a long time saves every penny they have to live on when they get old, only to die in a car wreck five years later. What about the potential for depression/suicide? or someone embarking on risky behaviors in the belief they will die soon?

1 Comments:

Blogger Chuck K said...

Check out Robert A. Heinlein's "Lifeline", written in 1939.

July 02, 2011 10:01 PM  

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