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why do we die?

Erich Schwarz schwarze.ccomail at starbase1.caltech.edu
Mon Oct 23 04:02:10 EST 1995


TJD. Prior wrote:

> As a physics student I was thinking and the question came to me Why do we
> die, Why cant we just regenerate our selves forever. As nobody could give
> me a satisfactory answer am asking you. If you could answer this simple!!
> question in basic terms I would I would be most greatfull.

    A *lot* of people would be grateful, not just you.   >:^)

    Nobody knows, but, in the case of humans, it looks as if there
are multiple things that go wrong: gradual cumulative damage to
DNA, shutting down of cellular replication clocks, and death of
irreplaceable neurons are the three problems that come most 
obviously to mind.

    Another thing that looks pretty clear is that we're not really
designed to live a long time because, historically, most of us
were dead at age 35 until very recent (Neolithic) times.  Ergo,
there's been no evolutionary pressure for genes that make us live
1000 years, while at the same time there is probably some short-
term advantage to having a body that isn't too solidly built.

    It should be possible to artificially ameloriate aging, but
it won't happen right away: we need more basic research in DNA
repair, the cell cycle, and neurotrophic factors first.


--Erich Schwarz



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