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Aging Genes
by Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover

During the past half century, the established scientific wisdom has been that aging was the result of cumulative cell damage. However, recent discoveries have overturned this assumption. It is now believed that aging cells undergo genetic change. Over one thousand such changes have been identified thus far, hinting at a genetic mechanism that controls the aging process, which all living creatures must undergo.

It has not yet been determined whether the genetic changes are the result of aging, or the cause of it.

A recently published article in the journal Cell argues that the genes are the true cause of aging. Researchers at the universities of Stanford and Colorado have collaborated on a study that showed that nearly all of the nearly thousand genes that show aging-related changes are controlled by only three genes. These genes serve as "master switches," turning on certain genes and turning off others. At the direction of these three genes, the processes carried out by hundreds of other genes can be disrupted. However, these three genes themselves are not susceptible to aging. When researchers blocked two of the genes, they extended the lifespan of unicellular organisms by 50%!

This article has caused quite a stir in the scientific community and has generated much food for thought. The research has opened a tantalizing new possibility--everlasting biological life. The researchers argue that the possibility for eternal life is written into the genes of every living creature; however, there is a precise, controlled mechanism by which the cell turns off the repair and maintenance genes and turns on the genes for cellular breakdown. Trials are now underway to determine whether these processes themselves can be controlled or thwarted.

The truth is that this is hardly a new scientific discovery. From the very first portion of the Torah we have known that in the beginning, Adam was created for eternal life. However, as a result of the sin of the Tree of Knowledge, he underwent a change and became susceptible to death. In the time of Moshiach, the world will be restored to its original state. Once the damage done by the sin of the Tree of Knowledge has been repaired, there will be no more death. This promise is reflected in the words of the prophet Isaiah: "Death will be swallowed up forever, and G-d will wipe away the tears from every face."

Whether death will be vanquished through some yet-undiscovered scientific process is still too early to tell. One thing, however, is certain--at any moment, G-d will decide to wipe out the Angel of Death once and for all, and that moment may be sooner than it seems.

Prof. Yirmiyahu Branover is chairman of the Center of Magnetohydrodynamic Studies and Training at Ben-Gurion University.



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