In the past, the idea of immortality for humans seemed blasphemous, and anyone who dared to disagree was deemed ludicrous. Today, despite still being regarded as something beyond our time and humanity, it is becoming an increasingly prevalent topic. Many top companies, such as Google, are investing great amounts of money into research to see whether it is achievable to prove thousands of years’ worth of belief to be false.
Throughout history many people have claimed to be or attempted to be immortal. Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, believed that a mercury-based drink was the key to becoming immortal, so he consumed it regularly, but was unable to become immortal. The belief of immortality was also profound within many cults, such as in Shingon, an esoteric doctrine within Buddhism, which believed in sokushinbutsu, an ancient practice of self-mummification with the purpose of achieving immortality.
In the status quo, many companies are pioneering to achieve this seemingly far-fetched idea, yet some are more renowned than others. Elizabeth Parrish, the founder of BioViva Sciences, an American biotech company, seems to be the closest yet to achieving immortality. The way that she has attempted to do this is through gene therapy, and modifying the DNA of a person with advanced programs, and then re-implanting them into a patient. This in time would result in the genetic changes spreading throughout the body of the person and beginning to produce effects, such as anti-aging. Shockingly, this actually produced results, with Elizabeth’s biological age shrinking from 65 to 45 to 30. Another ideology of how to potentially achieve immortality is through preventing cells from reaching senescence, the process of deterioration of cells with age, one can achieve biological immortality. To do this, we would potentially need to produce telomerase, an enzyme which rebuilds telomeres in cells, allowing them to infinitely replicate. Telomeres, a ‘cap’ at the end of DNA, are thought to be the cause of cell aging. Every time a cell divides the telomere becomes a bit shorter; when it is finally worn down, the cell is unable to split and dies.
Google’s company, Calico, strives to achieve immortality through focusing on the characteristics of aging, such as stress responses, cellular energetics and senescence, as well as therapeutic areas to tackle conditions which increase in old age and increase morbidity. On the therapeutic side, they are looking for small molecule-protein scavengers to work as agents and use them to identify promising new treatment alternatives.
In contrast to the advances that are being made, there are many moral arguments against this. It may promote an even further divide between the rich and the poor, for this technology will be extremely expensive and inaccessible. Other arguments are that it may potentially defeat the purpose of life and trying to ‘live your best life’, for there is no reason to. To quote the famous poet Emily Dickinson, ‘That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet’.