Living forever – the end of evolution part-3

Read an article yesterday on researchers who had been studying various mammals and trying to determine the number of DNA mutations they accumulate at about the time they die. The researchers found that after about 800 mutations for mole rats, they die, see Nature article Somatic mutation rates scale with lifespan across mammals and Telegraph article reporting on the research, Mystery of why humans die around 80 may finally be solved.

Similarly, at around 3500 mutations humans die, at around 3000 mutations dogs die and at around 1500 mutations mice die. But the real interesting thing is that the DNA mutation rates and mammal lifespan are highly (negatively) correlated. That is higher mutation rates lead to mammals with shorter life spans.

C. Linear regression of somatic substitution burden (corrected for analysable genome size) on individual age for dog, human, mouse and naked mole-rat samples. Samples from the same individual are shown in the same colour. Regression was performed using mean mutation burdens per individual. Shaded areas indicate 95% confidence intervals of the regression line. A shows microscopic images of sample mammalian cels and the DNA strands examined and B shows the distribution of different types of DNA mutations (substitutions or indels [insertion/deletions of DNA]).

The Telegraph article seems to imply that at 800 mutations all mammals die. But the Nature Article clearly indicates that death is at different mutation counts for each different type of mammal.

Such research show one way on how to live forever. We have talked about similar topics in the distant past see …-the end of evolution part 1 & part 2

But in any case it turns out that one of the leading factors that explains the average age of a mammal at death is its DNA mutation rate. Again, mammals with lower DNA mutation rates live longer on average and mammals with higher DNA mutation rates live shorter lives on average.

Moral of the story

if you want to live longer reduce your DNA mutation rates.

c, Zero-intercept LME regression of somatic mutation rate on inverse lifespan (1/lifespan), presented on the scale of untransformed lifespan (axis). For simplicity, the axis shows mean mutation rates per species, although rates per crypt were used in the regression. The darker shaded area indicates 95% CI of the regression line, and the lighter shaded area marks a twofold deviation from the line. Point estimate and 95% CI of the regression slope (k), FVE and range of end-of-lifespan burden are indicated.

All astronauts are subject to significant forms of cosmic radiation which can’t help but accelerate DNA mutations. So one would have to say that the risk of being an astronaut is that you will die younger.

Moon and Martian colonists will also have the same problem. People traveling, living and working there will have an increased risk of dying young. And of course anyone that works around radiation has the same risk.

Note, the mutation counts/mutation rates, that seem to govern life span are averages. Some individuals have lower mutation rates than their species and some (no doubt) have higher rates. These should have shorter and longer lives on average, respectively.

Given this variability in DNA mutation rates, I would propose that space agencies use as one selection criteria, the astronauts/colonists DNA mutation rate. So that humans which have lower than average DNA mutation rates have a higher priority of being selected to become astronauts/extra-earth colonists. One could using this research and assaying astronauts as they come back to earth for their DNA mutation counts, could theoretically determine the impact to their average life span.

In addition, most life extension research is focused on rejuvenating cellular or organism functionality, mainly through the use of young blood, other select nutrients, stem cells that target specific organs, etc. For example, see MIT Scientists Say They’ve Invented a Treatment That Reverses Hearing Loss which involves taking human cells, transform them into stem cells (at a certain maturity) and injecting them into the ear drum.

Living forever

In prior posts on this topic (see parts 1 &2 linked above) we suggested that with DNA computation and DNA storage (see or listen rather, to our GBoS podcast with CTO of Catalog) now becoming viable, one could potentially come up with a DNA program that could

  • Store an individuals DNA using some very reliable and long lived coding fashion (inside a cell or external to the cell) and
  • Craft a DNA program that could periodically be activated (cellular crontab) to access the stored DNA for the individual(in the cell would be easiest) and use this copy to replace/correct any DNA mutation throughout an individuals cells.

And we would need a very reliable and correct copy of that person’s DNA (using SHA256 hashing, CRCs, ECC, Parity and every other way to insure the DNA as captured is stored correctly forever). And the earlier we obtained the DNA copy for an individual human, the better.

Also, we would need a copy of the program (and probably the DNA) to be present in every cell in a human for this to work effectively. .

However, if we could capture a good copy of a person’s DNA early in their life we could, perhaps, sometime later, incorporate DNA code/program into the individual to use this copy and sweep through a person’s body (at that point in time) and correct any mutations that have accumulated to date. Ultimately, one could schedule this activity to occur like an annual checkup.

So yeah, life extension research can continue along the lines they are going and you can have a bunch of point solutions for cellular/organism malfunction OR it can focus on correctly copying and storing DNA forever and creating a DNA program that can correct DNA defects in every individual cell, using the stored DNA.

End of evolution

Yes mammals and that means any human could live forever this way. But it would signify the start of the end of evolution for the human species. That is whenever we captured their DNA copy, from that point on evolution (by mutating DNA) of that individual and any offspring of that individual could no longer take place. And if enough humans do this, throughout their lifespan, it means the end of evolution for humanity as a species

This assumes that evolution (which is natural variation driven by genetic mutation & survival of the fittest) requires DNA variation (essentially mutation) to drive the species forward.

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So my guess, is either we can live forever and stagnate as a species OR live normal lifespans and evolve as a species into something better over time. I believe nature has made it’s choice.

The surprising thing is that we are at a point in humanities existence where we can conceive of doing away with this natural process – evolution, forever.

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