Where there is a will there is a way

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Dr. Cynthia Kenyon and the science of aging

Do you trust that people will be able to handle the responsibility of the great power of aging, and dying? I happened to come across a talk by Dr. Cynthia Kenyon, in video below (but different talk).

Basically, Dr. Cynthia Kenyon (Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California at San Francisco) has experimented scientifically with simpler life forms, one species worms in particular, and has isolated two genes which control aging. The worms she used have under 1000 cells in total, their lifespan is 2 weeks, and they are transparent (C. elegans, a very small roundworm about the size of a comma). The genes present in the worms are also present in us (and in fruit-flies she also uses, and in mice).

My summary:
DAF-2 causes aging by inhibiting the good work done by DAF-16. DAF-16's role is to repair, etc, accessing genetic material in the nucleus of cells. DAF-2 represses DAF-16 which causes aging. Damaging DAF-2, she has discovered the fountain of youth by discovering the gene which inhibits the repairing "youth" gene, DAF-16. The worms she experimented on not only lived six times longer when DAF-2 was damaged, they also resisted great injury, and illness. The common illnesses of "old age", that a weakened organism will get, cancer, alzheimer's, heart disease were also not experienced. The implications were that we may be able to control the DAF-2 gene in humans (which is called something else, will look it up, possibly transcribe the entire talk), and then the DAF-16 gene already present in us would be able to do its good work and keep us youthful and strong alot longer. If old age were no longer present, we would go on fit and healthy until we expired, due to DNA mutations over time. Or we could get hit by a bus.

One man (with asmart jacket apparently, according to the host) had a smart question as well, about why nature hadn't already created a life-form which used this power to keep organisms young and healthy for longer. Now that was a good question. Dr. Kenyon's answer was that for one, the parent, once they had had their offspring, would be better gone as they competed with the children for resources (very relevant to humans). The other is that, perhaps a stronger worm was not necessary, as it was usually to be killed by a predator after a certain length of time.

My thoughts:
When she initially spoke, I noticed that she spoke with passion for the science of what she was doing-- passion for what she was discovering in life. At the same time, I noticed the classic disconnection of this scientific age of the intuitive awareness of the impact of her actions on the world.

Of course the discussion did come around to that. I was listening to a talk by Dr. Cynthia Kenyon on the radio the first time; I could hear awareness in the British professor host, concern for the implications of the research in his tone. He asked about the "social implications" of her work (meaning the impact on people). She first said that she was a scientist, stating the usual disclaimer of her field-- implying that the responsibility for her work was held by someone else specialized to make ethical choices. I ran into this separation all the time in university, by science in particular, my biology textbook stated in the very beginning that it answered only scientific questions, and other questions were reserved for a philosophy class. But when you are talking about deep things such as death, life, and so on, how can these be separated?

Her first personal response was to acknowledge that the Earth's resources were already suffering due to the pressures of overpopulation. Then she followed by saying that in China, where there are also thinking and feeling humans, they manage to use the 1 child policy. The host mentioned that it hadn't been such a great success before turning to questions from the students. I know that in China, there are many problems such as having to kill nearly term babies, or even that there are less girls, because they need a boy to carry on the family name-- so many girl babies are aborted. And the Chinese are sad about only ever being able to have one child.

Shane summed it up succinctly, as always (my husband), when he said that she was just going to carry on her work, and leave it to others to tell people to only have 1 child.

The hose suggested that it could be a solution to choose to not develop this science. Dr. Cynthia Kenyon was thrilled about the implications of her work, and said that although some countries would ban it, there would always be others who would be interested. (So it was going to go forward.)

Dr. Kenyon's thrill about discovering nature was not wrong in itself, but it is the lack of using the whole mind, and conscience, in particular the neglected intuitive mind, that creates a monstrous imbalance. If were were a society which appropriately managed our greater powers, distributing wealth and resources, and also could manage our impact on the environment, this new power could be considered. But are not managing ourselves at all-- that would require intuitive powers of balance. How can we pull the strings of nature even more without listening to her lessons also of balance? We learn what we wish to, and use it how we wish. It is really frightening.

A few days later:

You can't just think in a bubble - like Dr. Cyntha Kenyon with her anti-aging discoveries. Yes, nature is a marvel, but are you adding to the problem, or the solution in our world? Dr. Cynthia has essentially discovered a way to make overpopulation worse on our planet- there was a reason nature had struck that balance. Akinori Ito has used his life and abilities to help the world in which he has found himself.

PS - about anti-aging science and the whole science love affair in general, who wants to have power and control over everything? Then it no longer manages itself, it is just taking on more that we have to now manage and maintain ourselves. Our heart and many body functions currently operated autonomously. Taking over something that is currently managed by Nature is similar to saying No, I want to manage the beating of my heart consciously from now on.

Who wants that worry? (And responsibility.)

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