Die lobsters of old age

The only thing certain in life is death ... right?

The fact is: dying is not a magical transition into the hereafter, but a biological process that, like everything in life, has its reasons. In the following text I will describe these reasons to you and use them to explain the magical idea of ​​a possible immortality.

Before I dedicate myself to immortality, it is necessary to get to know death a little better. It should be noted that the basis, here and below, is always natural death from old age. Because nobody can prevent an accident or a serious illness, for example.

Why are we dying? This question is asked in the most varied of sciences. It is a question that has haunted us since the beginning of time and will probably never leave us. One answer from biology to this question is the so-called telomere hypothesis of aging by Leonard Hayflick.

Our genome is represented in each of our cells and stored as a base code in the DNA. The sequence of three of the four bases adenine (A), guanine (G), thymine (T) and cytosine (C) encodes 20 different amino acids. These are then put together to form our body's proteins. In order for a cell to divide, the DNA wraps itself around proteins and spirals into a compact form, the chromosomes. For cell division, the genetic information has to be replicated, in the process of which the end of the DNA cannot be completely overwritten and is therefore lost. It is thanks to the telomeres that no important information is lost. Telomeres form the ends of the chromosomes and consist of repeating base units with no information content. In vertebrates, this order is TTAGGG and is repeated several thousand times. With each cell division, the telomeres shorten until they have reached a critical length. From this point on, the cell can no longer divide and cell death (apoptosis) or permanent cessation of growth (senescence) occurs.


As a result of these processes, the number and quality of our cells decrease with age. Typical age features such as wrinkles and gray hair are the result.

Can you stop the process? Can you become immortal? The answer: In theory, yes.

The metabolism of lobsters does not change, nor do they lose their appetite or their ability to reproduce. Lobsters live without any signs of aging *. Why? Lobsters have an enzyme called telomerase, which is able to renew telomeres and thus override cell aging. In humans, telomerase only exists to a very limited extent in continuously dividing cells, such as bone marrow cells or embryonic cells. Otherwise, telomerase only occurs in one type of cell: cancer cells.

The telomerase allows the cancer cell to divide infinitely often and cause damage in the body. This problem is also the essential obstacle that clouds the thought of immortality. The idea would be as follows: Telomerase would be administered to the human body at certain time intervals so that telomeres can be lengthened again and the process of aging can be prevented. But in this scenario the risk of cancer would increase exponentially. Any mutation that signals a cell to divide more often than necessary would inevitably cause cancer **. It almost seems like cancer is an attempt by nature to preserve mortality.

* It has to be mentioned that the biological immortality of lobsters has not been proven experimentally, as the non-occurrence of death simply cannot be proven.

** Mutations are constantly taking place in the human body, but most of them are recognized and repaired by repair mechanisms.

Image sources:

1. Philippe de Champaigne (1602–1674)
English: Still-Life with a Skull
Français: Vanité