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Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality? (nytimes.com)
119 points by mhb on Nov 28, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 42 comments

Also, this fascinates me http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HeLa

These are cells from a person, Henrietta Lacks, which can be grown in a dish and which keep dividing, for ever.

Fun fact: there are tons of cell lines that are "immortalized", usually using various oncogenes. You can read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biological_immortality

HeLa cells are certainly the most famous. It should be noted that the HeLa stocks used in most labs now are radically different from original HeLa stocks.

Even in routine experiments, you have to keep a bunch of cells frozen in liquid nitrogen to replenish your "working stock" of cells. After around 30-40 passages (e.g. generations of cells), most immortalized cell lines start to get funky with mutations and exhibit different behaviors. You kill them off and go back to your frozen stocks to get back to the "original" genetics.

For the interested, I can highly recommend "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" - http://www.amazon.com/The-Immortal-Life-Henrietta-Lacks/dp/1...

From Wikipedia article: "The cells were later commercialized, although never patented in their original form."

Patenting a human cell? That's the most absurd thing I've ever heard.

Nobody patented "a human cell". What can get patented is the method for creating this cell line. Here's the classic (and controversial, but for different reasons) patent related to the Mo cell line (T-lymphoblasts):


These cell lines do not exist in nature and what is patented was the creation of a new immortalized cell line.

I can understand patenting the creation method of the line, but please tell me the line itself won't somehow inherit protection from that patent.

But I have a sinking feeling that it could.

They are patenting certain parts of DNA as we speak. It's nothing new, but it sickens me as well.

If you don't have time to read this very long (albeit great) piece, the tldr version is: http://tldr.io/tldrs/50b64589bb2203997700060f

Yes, thanks. As much as I love the flowery prose of the article, it was really far too long and this tl;dr was much appreciated.

First use case for the tldr.io bookmarklet and someone typed one up.

Thank you! Very useful.

There are the same arguments to be made here for a lack of relevance to humans as in the case of hydra:


Or lobsters, for that matter, but much more so for these tiny organisms with potent regenerative capacities.

And birds which regenerate hair cells responsible for hearing.

"Increasing human longevity has no meaning, it is ecological nonsense."

This is an interesting quote from the article given by another biologist Stefano Piraino, not the main focus of the article. If we did find the secret to immortality, it would be stupid to give it to everyone. In that case, who gets it?

You are somehow imagining that this will be administered in a strictly controlled manner. It won't. In fact, I will be very sad if it's not part of the regular capitalist marketplace.

Will it lead to overpopulation? Yes. Bloody wars? Yes. Almost completely stagnant population? Suicides left and right by 200-y.o. people? Perverse class imbalance? Complete overhaul of society as we know it? Yesyesyesnotreally.

Because once you institutionalise and put such and such rules in place (a bureaucracy), people stop thinking. They stop thinking and become not people, but things - and they do it to themselves, willingly.

And that is the greatest crime of all.

This is what I was thinking myself. What's to stop people from going after such immortality? They might very well give an arm and a leg, those on the outside are going to feel maltreated, and might even start a revolution.

As far as the "immortality" for these jellyfish go though, they are rather easy to kill. They can't even eat a whole prawn egg, and their water temperature has to be just right.

The elite - most intelligent, most beautiful, most valued members of a ruling political party. It would be a 1970s dystopian sci fi movie come to life.

Taking but a moment to take a peek down the sci-fi fantasy rabbit hole :

It might potentially be fair to administer "longevity" to those willing to colonize another planet. This would solve the problem of distribution while creating a bit of an incentive to expand human civilization (which might well be an eventual necessity).

Easy: if you want to be immortal you have to be sterilized too.

And you can't adopt nor rent a womb.

There, no overpopulation problem.

Ridiculous. There's a lot more space in this universe than just planet Earth.

Unfortunately, there is only a small push for extra-planetary life. The fat cats on top would much rather sit back, and wait for an extinction level event.

Also, if humans do go extra/multiplanetary, most religious apocalypse' are MOOT.

Doesn't solve the problem. Suppose I have three kids, then get immortalized and sterilized. Each of my kids does the same...

If you already have kids then you can't qualify.

The wealthy.

People who have no kids and are sterilized permanently.

Fun article but as you'd expect from the title "we won’t know for certain what this means for human beings until more research is done."

If a headline is phrased as a question, the answer is always "no." If the answer were "yes", they wouldn't have phrased it as a question.

Hacker News law of Betteridge's law of headlines: If the headline is applicable Betteridge's Law will always be mentioned.

That's because geeks like to back their answers with science (or almost science)

More like geeks like to prove they've already heard of the idea behind something.

Dropping the name Betteridge or Dunning-Kruger or Godwin tells everyone "I heard about this phenomenon before it was cool and even know the name for it".

Basically a geeky way to be a hipster.

I don't think so. Geeks like to win arguments and value facts above opinions. Scientific arguments are generally irrefutable. Of course the only scientific of the 3 is the Dunning-kruger effect.

> "Geeks like to win arguments and value facts above opinions."

I'd rephrase that to be "geeks like to win arguments and like to think they value facts above opinions"

In my experience geeks are no more objective than any other messed up human being on this planet. We just have a giant collective superiority complex about our own supposed factualness.

This is related to the many, many posts you see on HN where programmers belittle professionals of other fields as if they were economists, political scientists, biologists, medical doctors, rocket scientists, architects, structural engineers, or what have you.

"Do geeks always back their answers with science?"

"Can all headlines that are questions be answered with no?"

Are 2 data points enough to disprove our theory?

"Does this headline amount to more than linkbait?"

"Will Betteridge's law be mentioned if this headline is submitted to Hacker News?"

Do you notice the times when nobody mentions it?

Spoiler: no.

I think these biologists are betting on "not yet".

Obviously. It's a jellyfish, it can't even talk.

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