Friday, 19 April 2013

Fountain of Youth - Could humans live forever?

As a 116-year old Peruvian is identified as possibly the world's oldest woman, here’s a brief look at ageing - Or NOT, as the case may be…
       If you're under 30 you probably won't remember this, but there was a time when Messrs McCartney, Donny and Robbie belonged to the same elite 'Scream Team' now presided over by the ultimate Boy Wonder, Justin Bieber (who incidentally is thinking of 'retiring') - an exclusive club of fresh-faced adolescents whom every teenage girl wanted to wed and every middle-aged woman wanted to mother. Then, just as their popularity reached its peak, these youths did something unforgiveable; they started to grow older.
       Sadly, ageing is a remorseless, unrelenting and inevitable process from which nobody (except Peter Pan and possibly Cliff Richards) seems able to escape - not even (whisper it softly) Justin Bieber himself. Yes girls, belieb it or not, the Beloved may one day have saddlebags and wrinkles, unless he takes the Botox option and ends up with that taut wind-tunnel look so favoured by jaded, middle-aged celebrities.
       There is, however, another option - not just for Justin, but for everyone on earth....reaching our physical peak and staying there indefinitely.
       For many people, the idea of living forever seems too far-fetched, even absurd. But is it? If we were only meant to live for just three score years and ten (or longer if we have exceptional genes), why do we fear death so much? Why do people undergo painful and unpleasant treatment to defeat life-threatening disease, or grieve so much when a loved one dies? And, if old age is as natural as we’re led to believe, why do so many invest heavily in creams, fillers, and cosmetic surgery to hold back the years?
       The sad fact is, even a tree can last ten times longer than we do - which seems an awful waste of our incredible brains, described by molecular biologist James Watson as “the most complex thing we have yet discovered in our universe.” Just as we learn how to use it, we're too old to care!
       Superficially, looks matter too. One photographer who specialises in cosmetics and skin care products believes a model is over the hill at 17, as, by then, the complexion has lost its dewy glow!!
       Despite our reservations, human beings have always had a strong desire to live indefinitely, with many going to any lengths to achieve that objective. In ancient China, Taoist priests led people to neglect their day o day activities in a relentless search for “the elixir of life” or “fountain of youth”. Alchemists in medieval Europe and Arabia used noxious ingredients such as arsenic, sulphur and mercury to create their supposed life-preserving potions - though how long anyone actually lived after taking them is anybody’s guess!
      Today, little has changed and it isn’t just women who yearn to turn back the clock, nor is it just the rich who’ll pay handsomely to have their bodies frozen via cryonics, hoping for a revival once a cure for their terminal condition has been discovered. Every day, dubious and sometimes highly unethical therapies are being lined up as the only way to achieve that everlastingly flawless complexion and perfectly toned muscles.
      But were we actually meant to grow old? At one time, gerontologists believed human bodies were programmed - to grow, to reach their peak and then to rapidly decline into old age and, eventually, death. Yet some experts into ageing have now modified that view, largely due to the miraculous way the human body functions.

Were humans meant to grow old and die?

       According to Genesis, Adam and Eve were created to live forever. In fact, had they not disobeyed and eaten from the 'tree of knowledge of good & bad', they'd still be alive and, along with their descendants, glowing in youthful perfection. (Genesis 2:17; 3:1-5) In fact, the forbidden tree was not the only significant plant in the Garden of Eden. Tucked away in this wonderful pleasure park was the 'Tree of Life' to which our first parents could have gained access. However, having been ejected from paradise, the gate back to Eden and the Tree of Life was barred by 2 cherubs and a flaming sword (Genesis 3:22-24) (See also Romans 5:12)
       Even today, for all our inherited flaws, Biologist Jared Diamond, notes how our bodies have the ability to regenerate; humans “replace the cells lining our intestine once every few days, those lining the urinary bladder once every two months, and our red blood cells once every four months,” adding: “Nature is taking us apart and putting us back together every day.”
       This means that our physical bodies don’t really age at all but, according to one scientist: “In a year, approximately 98% of the atoms in us now will be replaced by other atoms that we take in through our air, food and drink.”
       And, as other experts admit they don’t know why ageing should occur, we have to wonder whether we really should live forever. In his book, Conquest of Death, Alvin Silverstein wrote of his desire to “unravel the essence of life” and to understand how a person ages.” He was convinced that one day there will be no more old people, “for the knowledge that will permit the conquest of death will also bring eternal youth.”
       Impossible? Only time will tell!


       Almost forgot this item from last year which adds more weight to the argument:
       "Put down that Botox, cancel your facelift – Science Correspondent Fiona MacRae reports that we could one day be immortal and that the Fountain of Youth may lie with the humble flatworm. *
       From just one member of this innocuous species, researchers at Nottingham University have created over 20,000 worms which, when divided, simply grow back again  -  i.e. the head bit grows another tail while the tail portion grows a replacement head, providing two worms for the price of one.  And the more they are cut up, the more parts there are to regenerate into whole new worms, each identical to the first, with bodies and organs that never seem to grow old.
       Dr Aziz Aboobaker believes flatworms are immortal and pinpoints telomeres as the cause. In most creatures, including humans, telomeres normally shrink with age, preventing cells from dividing and renewing and, in time, resulting in decay. Not so with flatworms whose telomeres remain exactly the same whilst allowing cells keep on dividing at the same rate. 
       Imagine, no more wrinkles, no more creaky joints, and none of the age-related conditions which everybody dreads. Dr Aboobaker and colleague Dr Thomas Tan have already isolated the ‘immortality’ gene which could help scientists in their quest to grow new organs and develop treatments to keep old age at bay."

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Flight from the Nunjas - Extract from The Runaway Children Vol 1

Extract 1
       "Sister Prism turned to the congregation and announced, "Let our devotions begin!" 
        Suddenly, the whole atmosphere changed from one of hushed reverence to charged energy. Most of the Nunjas formed a circle which two of them entered. This couple bowed to each other, held up their staffs in a ritualistic salute and then, accompanied by ear-splitting shrieks, threw themselves into a frenzied bout of gravity-defying leaps, kicks and parries, using their staffs, their agility, and even their feet to gain an advantage over their partner. It was a truly mesmerising display, both women swirling and somersaulting with grace. Even their frumpy frocks seemed elegant, transformed to the exotic robes of Samurai warriors.
       "They're like Ninjas!" whispered Joe. "That's right!" Odi replied. "Ninja nuns! Nunjas! Just look at them go!" And he chuckled to himself, enjoying the display. Joe, however, felt more fear then at any time since his capture. It wasn't so much the Kung Fu that disturbed him, although the sight of shrieking women hurling themselves around was bad enough. No, it was the image of the snake. If asked why, he couldn't have explained his feelings. He just didn't like the way his skin crawled whenever he looked at it. How he wished he could go home.
       Worse was to come, however. Sister Prism had taken to the floor and her fellow nunjas stopped their own activities to watch in awed silence. After a series of amazing feats, she was halfway through a stunning mid-air pirouette when Odi, bloated from his recent gorging in the larder, burped. Loudly.”

Extract 2

"I won't bow down to the snake," insisted Joe.
"Then I'll lock you in a cell with no food, no blankets, no windows until you scream and beg to come out! Only I won't let you. So, what is it to be, Joe?"
"Well?" There was no answer. "Boy, don't you realise I could break you in two with one chop of my hand? I will NOT be defied!"
"I don't care" Joe replied. "You can do what you like 'cos you're big and I'm small - but you can't make me do anything and no matter what you do or how horrid you are, I won't bow down to the snake! I won't! I won't! Not ever!" He folded his arms and set his jaw and even Sister Prism could see there'd be no forcing him.
"Very well" she said and paused to think for a moment." Seeing as you're probably tired and it's your first day, I'm going to be lenient with you. Tomorrow, however, we will come here again. When the clock strikes noon, our guests will bow to the divinity. Anyone who doesn't will be thrown into the Pit."
The other Nunjas gasped. "Oh no! Not the pit!" they cried, and began to shudder at the thought.

And here are some real nuns taking attackers to task!