Biology Behind: Achieving momentary immortality

Greetings everybody, 

Hope you all had a great week! Well after this post you will feel GREAT! So, the last few posts have been focused around animals and conservation which are amazing I know, but I fancied dabbling in a bit of the human side of things this week. At first I was a bit undecided on what to do for a post. Then it hit me like a train when I purchased National Geographic recent magazine instalment. Let me introduce you all the grey area between life... and death, and how people around the world are using it to achieve immortality. Enjoy. 

Death, the one thing that every living thing on this planet has in common. The inevitability of that last and final breath. Life after our final moments are presented differently for differing religions, faiths and philosophies. Perhaps the most well known is the soul leaving its physical being to transition into a better place ruled by some entity. Others believe that life has a more cyclical approach where death results in the reincarnation of the person. We may never know whether their is an afterlife and what it entails. However, science is discovering a lot about death, revealing how it may not be defined by one moment but should be seen as a process. To illustrate the process of brain death I made an  awesome way of showing you (check it out. I am really pretty proud as it was my first time using Canva). 

Multicellular organisms such as ourselves, are complicated. So, is it surprising that when we die that our body does not simply 'switch off' like a light, but rather, goes into a state of shock. Death is usually used to describe when the bodies heart ceases to beat, the heart may have stopped but our other organs hang in there for a little while longer - it is argued, that during this time period - death is entirely reversible. 

How could this be achieved? Believe it or not, the answer may lie in suspended animation. By suspended animation, it means allowing the body to lower its heartbeat and metabolism and just for a moment become 'immortal' by populating that grey region between the islands of life and death. Trials where patients body temperature has been lowered in order to slow blood flow in gunshot and stabbing victims. Slowed blood flow allows the surgeons to have enough time to locate and suture the life ending wounds. 

Cast your minds back to any first aid training you may have done or seen on the television. CPR has a surprising amount of hidden potential under certain conditions. Low body temperatures and regulated chest compressions  ensures that the person lying on the floor will not receive any tissue injury from a rush of oxygen flooding the cavity. Cases were this has been sustained and the person returned from the brink of death hours after! So, lets all go and refresh those first aid skills then shall we? 

Suspended animation is not a new phenomena, as always, nature has beaten us to it. A species of nematode that occupies soils is often presented with extremely low levels of oxygen in its environment. Oxygen is the gas that provides all of us and many other organisms life, so surely oxygen deprivation is inevitable death- no so simple. These nematodes have the ability to thrive in air with 0.5% oxygen and considered head in oxygen levels of 0.1%. Here is what is amazing though, drop that level of oxygen quickly to 0.001% and these nematodes kick themselves into self preservation mode. That is they enter immortal stage, where they appear dead but only temporarily until they reach soils that have the desired concentration of oxygen. 

The ability for an animal to enter into a dormant or 'auto pilot' state when conditions become less favourable is a major key to survival. How their bodies sustain such acts still remains a major question for the sciences. You guys may already be aware of Hibernation but have you heard of Estivation? 

Estivation is the exact opposite to hibernation in terms of what triggers the dormant behaviour. Animals enter estivation in response to extremely high temperatures and arid conditions, such as reptiles and lungfish. Freshwater crocodiles are able to enter estivation and remain in this period of inactivity every year 3-4 months at a time awaiting the rainy season to return. During this period circulation is maintained, however less energy is required to sustain such a state thereby reducing water loss and the production of wastes. Such reptiles are believed to induce their metabolism into a depression where energy usage is therefore greatly minimised to sustain their body mass during this period of inactivity. 

Lungfish are very primitive fish that as the name suggests have lungs! They enter their estivation when their lake dries up. Lungfish burrow deep into the mud where they secrete a mucus that encases their entire body. This mucus the dries forming a hard outer shell that locks moisture on the inside! Smart fish. In this state the lungfish can remain in its mucus shell for as long as 3 years! 

Scientists are chemically inducing animals with reducing agents such as iodide. The presence of iodide lowers an organisms need for oxygen placing them in a hibernating like state. The goal of such studies is to slow the oxygen metabolism of our bodies cells after treatments for heart attacks to prevent repaired blood vessel to be flooded with oxygen. 

So, there you have it. The pursuit to achieve immortality maybe not forever- but when we most need it. Nature has allowed for some of its organisms to achieve such states on loaned time, such as the hibernation or estivation periods seen by numerous animals. It came about because it was the best way to survive and adapt to its surroundings. In nature it is the organisms that remain motionless for the longest that achieve higher longevity. No greater example than the seed. Seeds that will remain dormant until favourable conditions are present, whether that be 20 years from now or a hundred. It will endure- immortality. 

Have an awesome weekend guys! 

Over and out

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