Aging is “mathematically inevitable", according to these scientists (even if you buy really expensive face cream).
A new bit of research from the University of Arizona set out to find whether it’s theoretically possible to overcome the effect of aging in a multicellular organism. It turns out the answer is no, at least not based on our current understanding of human cell biology. Their results are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Aging is mathematically inevitable – like, seriously inevitable. There's logically, theoretically, mathematically no way out," Joanna Masel, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, bluntly said in a statement.
Aging occurs in two main forms on a cellular level. Cells can slow down and lose function or they can rapidly increase their growth rate, increasing the risk of cancer cells developing. This means your body is left in a sticky situation: If it wants to get rid of these cells that are losing their function, then that increases the risk of cancer cells proliferating. But if you attempt to get rid of these multiplying cancer cells, these sluggish cells will build up.
“What we show is that this forms a double bind – a catch-22,” says postdoctoral researcher Paul Nelson.
"You might be able to slow down aging but you can't stop it,” adds Masel. "We have a mathematical demonstration of why it's impossible to fix both problems. You can fix one problem but you're stuck with the other one. Things will get worse over time, in one of these two ways or both: Either all of your cells will continue to get more sluggish, or you'll get cancer."
This, the researchers say, means that aging is an "an intrinsic property of being multicellular.”
Of course, this is all based on our current understanding of aging and biology. The shortening of telomeres on the end of our DNA is an essential part of how our cells age. Each time a cell divides, the telomeres shorten, meaning there’s a limit to how many times a cell can reproduce. Some creatures, such as the planarian flatworms, have developed a mechanism to ensure their telomeres don’t shorten.
Equally, others argue that increasing our understanding of stem cells, thereby constantly replenishing the tissues of an organism with functional differentiated cells, could perhaps "defeat" aging.
Even computer science and transhumanism, with its ideas of “uploading” our consciousness to a machine, could see humans overcome mortality as we know it.
However, for now, it seems there's no escaping the force of aging. As Nelson concluded: "It's just something you have to deal with if you want to be a multicellular organism.”