Every event in the universe that we have been able to observe is deeply entangled with time. Time's forward impact has an influence on everything from the forming of distant galaxies to the wear and tear within our cells. The impact time has on us is called aging. This is a constant and forward moving process, but does it have to be? Can we control aging? Learn more in this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia.
In the words of the American poet Stephen Miller, "Time keeps on slipping into the future." Truer words have not been spoken. Every single moment in our life is an outcome from the prior moment. The constantly forward moving arrow of time does not change course and takes our bodies, growth, and cells along for the ride. The progression of time on a human body is documented by how we age. We can always grow older, but we can't turn that clock back. Or can we?
Recently scientists at Harvard University have been looking into how the body ages. Over time the communication between the mitochondria and the nucleus in every single one of our cells starts to deteriorate. As that communication slows down, aging accelerates. This is where a pretty remarkable new thought was introduced. What if we were to find the genes necessary to keep the communication between the mitochondria and nucleus healthier for a much longer time? Well, apparently this is not as impossible as it sounds, in small amounts at least.
As a cell progresses through time and use, the communication components on the mitochondria start to ware out. Once these proteins have been used up, the body's natural aging process kicks in at a noticeable amount. However, with the production of genes called sirtuins, that process can be controlled a little. The production of sirtuins offsets the accelerated deterioration of the communication ports in the cell. The longer these two parts can continue to communicate, the longer aging can be offset. This has only been applied to mice, but these are mammals and those are the cells we're dealing with within us as well. This natural production of sirtuin can be encouraged in the body by consumption of foods such as grapes, nuts, and milk.
These tests have only been conducted on mice thus far, but this is a great starting point for more research on better understanding what makes us who we are. The practical application could help off set age related diseases and perhaps lead to more procedures that have yet to remain unknown. While the technical development on this research is still underway the ethical dialogue must soon follow as well. After all, the big question this ultimately brings up is: should we be making ways for people to live longer? It's a great big world out there and lots more to know about. Stay tuned as research continues!
Article by Prabir Mehta, Science Museum of Virginia