Micro Deaths Create Eternal Life

@midjourneybot: /imagine: immortality

This essay is part 2 of “The BioLogical Robot”. If you haven’t read part 1, you should start there. In part 1, we learned how our chromosomes work like “tape drives” to protect our DNA source code. Chromosomes constantly spool and unspool the DNA tape only where it needs to be read. We learned how genes in human DNA are interoperable with the genes in fruit flies and that some sections of our “DNA tape” haven’t mutated one single letter in 1,000 million years.

It may be surprising to learn that some portions of our DNA tape are sacrosanct, or Read-Only Memory (ROM). And just as surprising, DNA can modify portions of itself during its own lifetime. Computer scientists have a similar process for updating source code while it’s already running called Runtime Patching. There’s so many things that can go wrong when runtime patching, that software designers generally avoid it at all costs. Sometimes when software updates are off by just a single letter, it can crash the entire machine.

Software is that brittle…and so is our DNA.

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Methods of DNA “Evolution”

There are several ways that DNA mutates during its own lifetime.

The first method is called Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT). Our DNA can actually acquire and test new genes (software packages) from foreign invaders by stealing segments of their DNA. Our chromosomes not only acquire genes from our parents, they can also try out genes they encounter during our lifetime. Bet you didn’t learn that in 9th grade Biology.

Horizontal Gene Transfer is the most prolific source of mutation in bacteria. When a bigger bacteria eats a smaller bacteria, it tries out its software. HGT is not known to be as common in animals, but there are scientific examples of bacteria-to-bacteria HGT, bacteria-to-animal HGT, and animal-to-animal HGT. Here’s a whitepaper called, “Horizontal gene transfer between bacteria and animals” for more:

Remember, there’s 0.00% mutation in 1,000 million years for the genes that make the histone “spools” that hold this mutated DNA “tape”. That means the new DNA source code has to splice together perfectly—there are exactly 147 DNA pairs for every 8 histone spools.

The interoperability of our genes is amazing, but every design has vulnerabilities. Geneticists have determined that roughly 1% of the DNA in humans are actually ancient (and recent) viruses. These are called Human Endogenous Retroviruses. Viruses are just strings of RNA, floating around the universe, looking for “protein factories” to hijack. Retroviruses come with a special Reverse Transcriptase protein that can insert their RNA into another organism's DNA, just like a computer worm.

Our source code is 1% DNA viruses.

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When we look closer at all these DNA viruses, they may not all be “DNA infections”. Here’s a quote from the National Institute of Health describing Human Endogenous Retroviruses,

Over 20 HERV families have been identified during the past two decades. Although many are defective through the accumulation of mutations, deletions, and termination signals within coding sequences, a limited number of HERVs have the potential to produce viral products and, indeed, to produce viral-like particles.”

As a computer scientist looking at DNA as machine code, these code snippets with “deletions and termination signals within coding sequences” sounds a lot like programmers describing Antivirus Software. For example, if we look through the machine code of Norton Antivirus in a text editor, we would see segments of code that are identical to the StuxNet computer virus. But Norton Antivirus isn’t infected with StuxNet, Norton retains parts and pieces of StuxNet code so that it can recognize it and kill it on sight in the future.

The mRNA vaccine from Moderna works the exact same way. When the biologists who sequenced the COVID-19 virus sent the DNA sequence of the protein spike to the nerds at Moderna…they emailed it in Microsoft Word. The Moderna mRNA platform added that DNA sequence to an innocuous bacteria, which taught our immune systems the “signature” of the COVID-19 virus. That way, when the real COVID-19 virus finally shows up, our immune system can recognize it and kill it on sight in the future.

I was vaccinated with Moderna, so that means somewhere inside me is DNA source code that was originally cut-and-pasted from Microsoft Word.

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So our DNA mutates from:

  • Horizontal Gene Transfer

  • viral attacks

  • nerds with computers

  • but also physical friction in the real world

Occasionally extra nucleotides get added or deleted from a DNA sequence during replication. Geneticists call this “wobble” or “strand slippage”. Cells create millions of copies of their own data during their lifespan, so they use a process known as Mismatch Repair (MMR) to prevent mistakes. After the replication process is complete, the resulting RNA output is compared to its DNA template.

Here’s a quote from Cell Research magazine that discusses the importance of this process,

MMR corrects DNA mismatches generated during DNA replication, thereby preventing mutations from becoming permanent in dividing cells. Because MMR reduces the number of replication-associated errors, defects in MMR increase the spontaneous mutation rate. Inactivation of MMR in human cells is associated with hereditary and sporadic human cancers, and the MMR system is required for cell cycle arrest and/or programmed cell death in response to certain types of DNA damage. Thus, MMR plays a role in the DNA damage response pathway that eliminates severely damaged cells and prevents both mutagenesis in the short term and tumorigenesis in the long term.”

Tap the screenshot below to learn more:

Here’s another good paper about errors in DNA replication causing mutations:


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In Vivo Evolution

The MMR System is critical to understanding our software design. Our cells were designed to copy their code perfectly to the letter INDEFINITELY, which means we were designed to live forever.

Evolution and natural selection don’t just happen between generations. Cells within our body mutate constantly (evolve) and drastically cull their weakest performers (natural selection). Evolution and natural selection are happening within our lifetime. This allows us to better fit our environments, indefinitely. I’m not saying Charles Darwin is completely wrong, even though I kinda am. At best, Darwin is right the same way that Sir Isaac Newton is right in Physics. Newton is right until we change the scale. Newton’s formulas don’t really work when we zoom out to the scale of galaxies—we need formulas from Einstein for that. Newton’s formulas don’t work when we zoom in to the scale of quantum mechanics either—we need formulas from Heisenberg and Planck for that.

So let’s zoom in and look at the evolution and natural selection of human cells.

The DNA software of you, me and everyone we know began as an Ovum, or “egg cell” from our mothers. To make a human, an ovum must encounter a “sperm cell” to become a zygote. A Zygote is a single living cell that contains the original diploid source code donated from each parent. A zygote is the only time a human being is in “mint condition”.

Immediately, when a zygote starts interacting with the universe, it starts getting smarter. Its DNA software may try out various genes, it may get hacked by RNA worms, or it may update its own epigenetic source code to improve cell regulation within its environment. Eventually, when this cell needs to divide, its software undergoes a process that computer programmers call a Project Fork. Here’s a quote from the wiki:

In software engineering, a project fork happens when developers take a copy of source code from one software package and start independent development on it, creating a distinct and separate piece of software. The term often implies not merely a development branch, but also a split in the developer community; as such, it is a form of schism. Grounds for forking are varying user preferences and stagnated or discontinued development of the original software.

You are not just one DNA sequence anymore.

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All 37 trillion cells in your body forked from code, that forked from code, that forked from your original zygote. The best reason to constantly fork software is to A/B test its performance. Computer programmers do this constantly. For example, the Facebook app doesn’t just have source code to make the little navigation bar along the bottom of your screen. The Facebook app has source code to make more than 60 different versions of that little navigation bar and they “live test” which versions are the best performers…ON YOU.

Geneticists are seeing more and more evidence that our DNA software adapts and updates much faster than we ever imagined. In the 1960’s, geneticists called the “non protein coding” parts of our source code “Junk DNA”. Here’s a quote from Medical News Magazine. Dr. Ananya Mandal MD explains it well,

In a Nature review published in the 1980, Leslie Orgel and Francis Crick stated that junk DNA ‘had little specificity and conveys little or no selective advantage to the organism.’ However, over the years, researchers have found evidence to suggest that junk DNA may provide some form of functional activity. Some lines of evidence suggest that fragments of what were originally non-functional DNA have undergone the process of exaptation throughout evolution. Exaptation refers to the acquisition of a function through means other than natural selection. In 2012, a research program called the ENCODE project concluded that around three quarters of the noncoding DNA in the human genome did undergo transcription and that almost 50% of the genome was available to the proteins involved in genetic regulation such as transcription factors.”

Geneticists have detected transposing “jumping genes” in embryos as young as 5 days old.

It might seem weird that all the DNA in your body doesn’t match at the same time. It doesn’t. There’s a chance that some of your DNA didn’t even come from you at all. Here’s a fascinating story in Time magazine about a dad who is actually his own kid’s uncle. Using the miracle of modern genetics, this dad learned he suffered from vanishing twin syndrome. So 10% of the sperm he produces today actually carries the DNA of his twin brother who was cannibalized in utero. The attacking DNA never quite finished its job because the dead twin not only lives on inside him, it reproduced a new human. This dad only shares roughly 25% of his genes with his own son.

We can visually confirm the variations in our own DNA software just by looking at our skin. A freckle on our skin is not just a single cell that “forgot” how to make the right skin pigment—its an entire family of cells that forgot how to do it. At some point in the past, the sun damaged the genetic code that determined the correct pigment for one of our skin cells. The MMR System in that cell didn’t notice the unintentional mutation, so it had no problem passing that mutation on to its daughter cells. Those daughter cells didn’t get culled because they were doing a good enough job with their other functions. So eventually that one cell “bloomed” into a whole family of cells that share that change to our source code.

In Vivo Natural Selection

With all the innumerable opportunities our cells have to mutate, pruning the underperforming DNA from our body (natural selection) is just as integral to our design as mutagenesis (evolution).

Our bodies start this process well before our birth. For example, in the book “Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters”, Matt Ridley describes how aggressively the female body culls variations in its source code. He writes,

In the ovary of a five-month-old human fetus, for example, there are nearly seven million germ cells. By birth, there are only two million, and of those two million, just 400 or so will be ovulated during the coming lifetime. Most of the rest will be culled by apoptosis, which is ruthlessly eugenic, issuing strict orders to cells that are not perfect to commit suicide (the body is a totalitarian place).


@americans: Our Intelligent Designer decided that women can be trusted with one precious egg per month, while men can only be trusted with 100M new sperm per day. This is one of the many reasons I strongly support gender quotas in the US Congress. If 50% of our law makers were women, our current budgets for war and education would “mutate” significantly. #votegirl

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The drastic pruning in our bodies also takes place in our brains. Ridley writes,

The brain is born with far too many connections between cells; many are lost as it develops. For example, at first each side of the visual cortex is connected to one half of the input from both eyes. Only by fairly drastic pruning does this change so that one slice of the brain receives input from the right eye and another slice receives input from the left eye. Experience causes the unnecessary connections to wither away and thereby turns the brain from a general to a specific device. Like a sculptor chipping away at a block of marble to find the human form within, so the environment strips away the surplus neurons to sharpen the skills of the brain. In a blind, or permanently blindfolded young mammal, this sorting out never happens.

When the MMR System works perfectly, it culls all the underperforming code from our “software repository”, which allows us to become perpetually fitter to our environment…indefinitely.

When an organism’s cells die perfectly according to plan, that organism lives forever.

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In Vivo Forever

This is why most longevity research is focused on the MMR system. At the forefront of this research is David Sinclair and his Information Theory of Aging. Sinclair’s theory, like many others in this book, is built upon Information Theory by Claude Shannon. Sinclair explains it all in his book, “Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don't Have To”.

Here’s his TED Talk, “Is Aging Reversible?”. (15 mins)

Here’s his interview with Dr. Lee Hood, MD, PhD. (71 mins)

Here are some highlights from the conversation:

  1. Sinclair’s “information theory of aging:” Built on mathematician Claude Shannon’s work on information theory, Sinclair asserts that the replicating efficiency of DNA codes degenerates over time as “noise” enters the system. This noise leads to “breaks” in DNA sequences. It is these breaks in DNA sequences, not the DNA itself, that cause aging.

  2. Degeneration occurs in “reader” cells: Genes and their epigenetic expression propel cell development and differentiation. The body contains two basic types of cells. The first type contains each individual’s genetic data or DNA. The second type reads and directs DNA application. Throughout the translation process, the archival DNA copies remain pristine, but the “reader” cells degrade over time from the signaling noise described above. Sinclair equates these degenerating DNA “reader” cells to “scratched CDs” that don’t play music as well as they once did. Fix the “scratches” and aging slows.

  3. Aging is a disease: Sinclair’s research suggests that these “scratched” reader cells are treatable. From a medical perspective, he believes it is easier to slow or even reverse cell degeneration (i.e., aging) than to treat many forms of cancer. If true, this represents a monumental shift in medical reasoning. Aging causes 85% of all human suffering, including most major diseases. The ability to treat aging as a disease and slow its detrimental impacts has the potential to extend healthy human life well into the 100s.

  4. Aging is a simple three-level mechanism: The first level encompasses environmental inputs, including eating and exercise, that influence the aging process. Adaptive behaviors, stress to the immune system, such as intermittent fasting and experiencing cold, can extend an individual’s lifespan. The second level consists of specific longevity genes, such as sirtuin proteins, that repair cells under stress. These repairs modulate the pace and extent of the aging process. The third level is the fundamental relationship between DNA and its application, captured by Sinclair’s information theory of aging. In Sinclair’s opinion, it is now possible to proactively influence this relatively simple structure.

  5. Practical advice: Throughout the discussion, and especially during the audience Q&A segment, Sinclair discussed his own strategies for managing his immune system and extending his lifespan. They include eating one meal a day, exercising big muscle groups and taking supplements to enhance his longevity genes. These supplements include metformin, rapamycin and resveratrol. It’s never too late to start combating aging. Upon retirement, Sinclair’s 81-year-old father changed lifestyle behaviors and now is in better shape than Sinclair himself.

What's fascinating about David Sinclair’s research is that his team can artificially age a living mouse by introducing intentional errors in its DNA replication. These young mice get fat, slow down, and their hair turns gray just like the rest of us. More importantly, his team can reverse age a living mouse by “polishing out the scratches” in its DNA record with a process called DNA methylation.

All the information we need to stay alive forever is already present in our DNA. David Sinclair argues that we’ll cure cancer as a by-product of curing aging itself. With improved DNA methylation and MMR management, future generations may finally eat from the Tree of Life. Unless our children are accidentally or intentionally murdered, they may have to choose to die.

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I started this chapter claiming it was ironic that biologists didn’t believe in Intelligent Design because they knew more about our design than most other scientists. What do you think now? How can biologists believe in Darwinian Evolution and Natural Selection and believe in the Information Theory of Aging at the same time?

Were we made to die, or were we made to live?

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Our random source code randomly assembled to randomly live forever through the process of selectively dying?

This eye roll makes me laugh every time.


@americans: When humans eliminate aging, it will eliminate one of the strongest certainties in this world. America co-founder Benjamin Franklin 🤩 once wrote,

Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems to promise it will be durable; but, in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.

We will need to update this to,

Our old Constitution is still established, everything but social media seems to promise it will be durable; but, in this world, nothing is certain except uncertainty and taxes.

Taxes aren’t going anywhere, taxes are way more certain than death. Even if there were only two humans left on Earth, the weaker one would get taxed.

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In Vivo Upgrades

Our biotechnology is advancing so rapidly, that scientists can already edit our DNA while we’re alive using CRISPR based gene repair. If you’ve never heard of it, here’s the CRISPR Ted Talk from one of its inventors, Jennifer Doudna. (16 mins)

And here’s her follow up 8 years later. Now biologists can gene edit entire microbiomes, which is bonkers. (7 mins)

And finally, here’s a video explaining how a woman named Victoria Gray became the first person in America to be permanently cured of Sickle Cell Anemia using CRISPR technology. (14 mins)

What’s important to understand about Victoria Gray’s gene therapy is that geneticists took her stem cells, edited them, and then basically gave her a bone marrow transplant with herself. The technique caused their single letter change to her DNA to get propagated throughout her entire body. Within 18 months, doctors stopped seeing sickle cells in her blood. So Victoria Gray is currently living with a DNA sequence that is different from the one she was born with.

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Victoria Gray will just become “patient zero” for editing our own DNA sequences during our own lifetimes. In ten years, changing the color of our eyes or growing thick curly hair might just be a CRISPR shot in the arm. All we’ll have to do is wait for our “software upgrades” to replace all the molecules in our bodies. All those people who get addicted to cosmetic surgery, will become just as addicted to Cosmetic DNA.

I started this book with a quote from Arthur C Clarke which states,

The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic, so if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable then I’ll fail completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable will we have any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

Well, a century from now our society may look more like the X-Men movies. The DNA software that makes wings in birds and gills in fish will work in other animals too. How many future NBA hopefuls will upgrade their DNA software to become Shaquille O’Neal’s size? They might even be able to license Shaq’s DNA to do it. Corporations like Monsanto are already copyrighting and licensing DNA for fruits and vegetables that “outperform” their wild counterparts.

We close this two-part essay on our chromosome “tape drives” with a video that shows our DNA in action. (6 mins)


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