We've been trained to think that immortality is fantasy — the stuff of fairy tales and science fiction. But immortal creatures (in the sense that they do not decay or die of old age but can still be injured or killed) have been around pretty much since the dawn of time; they're actually somewhat common in nature. I'm not referring just to fungi or plant matter, either: There are plenty of actual living, breathing, moving animals that, if left completely unharmed, would simply never die. It's called negligible senescence, and you're probably already familiar with a few animals that possess it: Certain types of sturgeon, tortoises, and even lobsters could live forever if predators didn't get them first. Lobsters actually have an enzyme in their bodies called telomerase that repairs the damage in their DNA. So not only do they not age, they actually get more fertile and active as they get older.
Oh, and bigger. Much, much bigger.
Lobsters can theoretically live forever, and their size and overall virility would only increase with age. The only reason you're not slaving away beneath the thumb of bus-sized immortal super-lobsters is because nature cursed them with deliciousness (not literally, of course: There's a maximum size an animal with an exoskeleton can grow to, plus I'd like to believe that age would bring a tempered kind of wisdom to our lobster masters that would make slavery distasteful to them).
There are jellyfish that actually display negative senescence: When they're severely injured or begin to decline, they revert to a polyp form rather than dying. They simply start over as a baby, and there's no limit to how many times they can do it. If nothing had eaten the first of those jellyfish over these millions of years, it would still be alive today in the oceans. It could be swimming around right now, older than the continents, probably pissing off all the other jellyfish by trying to use expired coupons in the express lane.
So if immortality is not against the laws of nature, and we're obviously capable of genetic manipulation, why the hell aren't we as a species sinking all of our resources into creating a race of immortals? Well, that's the good news: We totally are!
Scientists are generally pretty good at science, and they're all over this one — lab coats a-flutter, proclaiming Eureka! to nobody in particular — and making some amazing breakthroughs…
…which we'll talk all about tomorrow! Hey, show some patience — you might have all the time in the world.
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Robert Brockway is an editor and columnist for Cracked.com, and the author of Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his fiancee, Meagan Kennedy, and their two dogs, Detectives Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh. He has been known, on occasion, to have a mustache.
Books mentioned in this post
Robert Brockway is the author of Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead