The Shape of Immortality

Behold the lowly flatworm.

Wait, strike that. Behold the death-defying flatworm, from whom we may learn the secrets of immortality. I would certainly like to be able to do what a flatworm can do:
Dr Aziz Aboobaker from the University's School of Biology, said: "We've been studying two types of planarian worms; those that reproduce sexually, like us, and those that reproduce asexually, simply dividing in two. Both appear to regenerate indefinitely by growing new muscles, skin, guts and even entire brains over and over again.
How do they do it? Well, that's the part we need to figure out. The flatworms appear to have found a way to achieve cell division without shortening of telomeres. Normally these structures, found at the end of a DNA strand, get shorter with each instance of cell division, marking increasingly older cells which eventually can't reproduce themselves at all. The trick is the release of an enzyme, telomerase, at the time of cell division.

Previous research had shown a link between telomerase and the non-aging cells, but this is the first time that researchers were able to show what happens when the gene controlling the secretion of telomerase gets switched off. As predicted, the telomeres start to shorten.

The link between telomerase and cell aging is an intriguing one. We are along way from anti-aging treatments for human beings based on this research, but it is very encouraging not only to find a proof-of-concept for an ageless creature, but to begin to understand how it does it.


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