Meet Telomerase, the Immortality Enzyme in Your Chromosomes

Telomerase is found at the end of chromosomes. (Image:  pixabay  /  CC0 1.0)
Telomerase is found at the end of chromosomes. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Life takes birth, decays, and dies. This is true for all living creatures. However, we might have found a way to cheat the decay process, allowing us to almost stay immortal. This is possible due to telomerase, an enzyme found at the end of chromosomes that plays a critical role in the aging process.

The immortality enzyme

Human cells contain 23 pairs of chromosomes. To prevent these chromosomes from fusing into each other, they are capped off with a series of repeated nucleotide sequences called telomerase. Each time a cell divides in your body, the chromosomes are copied. But they are not copied completely.  

“Each time the cell divides, the telomeric DNA shrinks and will eventually fail to secure the chromosome ends. This continuous reduction of telomere length functions as a “molecular clock” that counts down to the end of cell growth. The diminished ability for cells to grow is strongly associated with the aging process, with the reduced cell population directly contributing to weakness, illness, and organ failure,” according to Science Daily.

In most adult cells, telomerase is not switched on at all. It is only active in egg cells, sperm cells, stem cells, and embryo cells. If scientists find a way to block the telomerase from deteriorating, they might succeed in stopping the aging process. Organ deterioration would also stop. One way to do this is by adding telomerase to adult cells. A study that tested this hypothesis found that cells into which telomerase was introduced replicated more than 20 times their regular life span.

The ability to control Telomerase will also help in combating cancer. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The ability to control telomerase will also help in combating cancer. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Discovering a drug that would target only telomerase is a tricky process since this will require a knowledge of how the enzyme looks. Scientists have been successful in getting high-resolution images of telomerase. As such, anti-aging drugs might be a possibility a decade or two down the line. Another area where telomerase drugs would be useful is in cancer treatment. Cancer cells have the ability to switch on their telomerase, which is what allows them to keep growing uncontrollably. If we can deactivate telomerase in the cancer cells, the disease can be successfully stopped to a good extent.

Reverse aging

In a recent immortality breakthrough, scientists from the University of Cambridge succeeded in reversing the aging process in rat brain stem cells. The team discovered that when they implanted old brain stem cells into the soft brains of young rats, the cells got rejuvenated.

Scientists have successfully resurrected the brains of dead pigs. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Scientists have successfully resurrected the brains of dead pigs. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

“We were fascinated to see that when we grew young, functioning rat brain stem cells on the stiff material, the cells became dysfunctional and lost their ability to regenerate, and in fact began to function like aged cells,” Kevin Chalut, who co-led the research, said to the Daily Star. The scientists hope that their research will eventually aid in the development of a treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS).

Another team of scientists shows success in resurrecting pig brains. The team obtained the brains of 32 pigs from a slaughterhouse and artificially pumped blood into the organs. Over six hours, the scientists observed that the death rate of brain cells had come down. In addition, some of the cellular functions had also revived. The research points to the possibility that brain activities could be restored, at least partially, even after a person has died. 

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