Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Brain Cells May Live Longer When Not Tied to Their Weakling, Mortal Flesh


Good news for you transhumanist hopefuls: Your dream of one day living forever as a brain in a jar—or as a Krang-like brain inside a bone-crushing robot—may be one step nearer.

Italian scientists at the universities of Pavia and Turin discovered in recent experiments that mouse neurons, when taken out of their short-lived mouse bodies and sustained elsewhere, can actually live much longer than their original bodies would have allowed. Bodies die because their cells die. But brains, their new study suggests, would last much longer if they didn’t depend on those same, pesky bodies to survive.

Most cells in the body reproduce themselves by replicating, and “age” by losing their ability to replicate—a phenomenon known as “replicative senescence.” As described in this Genes and Development article from 2010, replicative senescence, scientists believe, happens because cells do not fully reproduce their telomeres when they divide, whose job is to protect a cell's chromosomes from deteriorating. With each division, that telomere chain gets shorter and shorter until it reaches a “critical minimal length.”

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