I have just been told that a friend of mine has died from cancer. It was eleven days from diagnosis to death. She was a warm and giving person, and she will be missed.
The first horror I remember as a child was being told that everyone would die. I remember the moment; the fears and the tears. That truth walked with me my entire life.
Now we can see that the monster we have taken for granted may not be immutable. People reading this article may not die of the old age disease.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has formally recognized aging as a disease in its latest version of the International Classification of Diseases.
It recognizes that many concepts previously regarded as “truths” have been slain in our era. Cancer was an illness that largely could not be cured, a notion that persisted into the 21st century. The obvious truth that humans could not fly was certain knowledge…until Orville Wright took off on December 13, 1903.
Today we know that everything must age and die…
- Not so fast -
Many things do not age. Bristlecone pine trees add years to their lives but do not age. Their cells do not appear to undergo a decline in function. The Institute of Forest Genetics went looking for signs of aging in these 4,700-year-old trees and found none. When Krakatoa erupted in 1883, the Bristlecones recorded it as a fuzzy ring of growth, which is now barely a centimetre from the outer ring of bark in our own time. Half of the genes of these trees are close relatives of ours.
They are not alone. The small freshwater animal Hydra vulgaris also shows no signs of aging despite being kept in labs around the world for decades. Some species of jellyfish can completely rejuvenate themselves, resetting their cellular age and becoming immortal. Other animals manage to live lifespans manyfold longer than ours. The Greenland shark can live 400–500 years. The Galapagos tortoise can live 200. Bowhead whales live more than 200. Geoduck and ocean quahog clams, sea urchins, Koi, and corals can live beyond 500 years. Monorhaphis chuni is a sponge that can live for 11,000 years. Even a bug-eyed fish named the warty oreo can live to be 140.