If lobsters and turtles could talk they would make fascinating storytellers. Imagine that you are a doddering old turtle off Caen, in Northern France, scoping the shallows for algae, sponges or whatever the heck that turtles eat.
The chances are good that, as a kid, swimming alongside your mommy, you saw Sir Francis Drake, racing with the wind in his man-o-war, The Revenge, engaging the Spanish Armada in 1588. You got singed when the San Lorenzo caught fire from a broadside from the Revenge, but it healed. You are one hardy m—er f—er, aintcha now.
And then you clearly remember June 6, 1944. You were courting Shiela-Sue Shell, your girlfriend for more than a century. You were trying ta grab her from behind so you could get on top of her and she wouldn’t letcha. This had been goin’ on for six months and you were getting tired of it.
“Come on, Shiela-Sue, its f—in’ six months, I can’t take it anymore. How ‘bout it?” You said to her. You were just this one big blub of testosterone, you were.
Suddenly Shiela-Sue gestured with her flappers along the coastline to the east. You forgot about shtupping her and went and waddled onto a rock and you gaped. As far as your beady eyes could see, the Allied Forces’ landing crafts were disgorging infantry while the German 7.92mm MG45 rounds punctured the surf at 2800 feet per second, still deadly, the English Channel able to do little to break their momentum. Shiela-Sue took a stray round on her shell, didn’t do nothin’ to her. Mating season was delayed a bit that year but she and you made up for it in the fall.
Keep thinking you are a turtle for a wee bit longer. If you have a neighbor who is a lobster and the lobster could talk too, he might have even seen Claudius’s galleys crossing over to vanquish the barbarian commander Caractacus and annex Britain in 43AD. Over a jelly fish brunch, you said to him in disgust, “Hey, Lobbie, what the f—k is wrong with these humans? Man, they’re always fightin’.”
Turtles habitually live healthy 400-plus years and lobsters, even longer, almost forever.
We don’t. By our 80s, we are shriveled-up shells of the beings that we once were. The luckier among us, live with our sons and daughters, waiting for those fleeting minutes when they’ll come into the room and sit by the bed and answer the simplest of our questions like ‘how was your day, son’ with impatient, irritated grunts. We will yearn for just one trip to the park in a month but no one has the time anymore. Jobs, kids, money and everything else but us, will be more important.
I have seen it all. Not as a father, but as a son. I am not going to let the same neglect happen to me.
I will get myself a .38. Nothing fancy. I’m not trying ta be Dirty Harry. Just something that I can press to the side of my head, pull the trigger and enter instantaneous oblivion. There won’t be any tunnel of light, nor any of that looking-down-at-my-body-from-the-ceiling crap. Just blam! and I’m gone. I am just waitng for Glock and Smith & Wesson to have their annual summer sale. I am in no hurry.
But there are some among us who dream of longevity. There are a host of others who are conducting advanced research on immortality. ‘Why can’t we be like lobsters or turtles or those giant sequoias’ is a question that has been on scientists’ minds for a long time.
Until a young researcher named Leonard Hayflick came along and in 1961, found out the exact reason why we don’t live longer. For his study, he contracted with nearby abortion clinics to deliver dead fetuses to him, from which he extracted cells. He chose fetuses because their cells are pristine and are the least likely to have viruses in them which might blur the study results.
Leonard Hayflick, getting off on cells, 1982 (Photo courtesy: nature.com)
Hayflick found that the cells from his fetal tissue samples multiplied only a finite number of times, before they stopped dividing altogether. Now a well-established fact, the number of cell divisions in the case of humans is 50, while for lobsters and turtles it is far higher. He propounded that, if the gene that limits the number of cell divisions can be isolated and modified, then that 50-division limit can be extended, enabling humans to live longer.
Who or what might have been responsible for fixing that number at 50? God? But if that were so, if God really did decide that human cells should stop after 50 divisions, surely He must have wanted the number to remain sacrosanct. Why then did He give us the ability to extend it beyond 50, a capability that is now most definitely within reach?
The one thing that is definitely not fixed is our ideas and questions. They seem to grow with every new revelation. They seem to be drawing us further and further away from the concept of God. We are already at a stage where Adam and Eve, the serpent and the apple have begun to seem absurd.
Hayflick made another even more remarkable discovery – that if a human cell is frozen below -250˚C after it has already gone through a number of divisions, say 25, no problem. As soon as the temperature is raised once again, the multiplication begins where it left off, with a ‘Let’s see now, where were we…hmm..oh yeah, okay, here we go again. Someone, get me a cappuccino.’
In fact, if you increase or decrease the cell temperature with a regulator, you can speed up or slow down the division. Surviving inter-planetary travel through deep freezes is no longer merely science fiction, but a reality waiting to happen.
The Nostromo crew in ‘Alien’ awakening from deep-frozen hibernation, as they near their destination, a planet that is 11 months of spaceflight away. Saves on food, water and sanitation. And canoodles. What would you do if you were stuck on a spaceship for 11 months with Sigorney Weaver walking around in panties? (Photo courtesy: Wikimedia)
Science textbooks everywhere now refer to the limiting number of cell divisions as ‘the Hayflick limit.’
Same thing with libido cells. Here is where God shows his sense of humor. Even after your cells have reached the Hayflick Limit, He still lets you retain your horniness. See a busty blonde when you are 60 and you’ll know what I am talkin’ about.
I will be 60 in eight months. I need Haytumble…I mean, Hayflick.