Friday, September 23, 2011

Lobsters Never Age

by Matthew Koh - Guest Writer, Chimes

Many have spent their whole lives searching for the secret to eternal youth, traveling far and wide and wasting their fortunes — all in vain. In modern times, that mad quest has been replaced by a slightly more attainable goal: to slow, if not stop, time’s marking of flesh by means of pills, superstition and surgery. Unfortunately, as Cher and Dolly Parton bear unwitting witness, the key word in the above sentence is "slightly."

What would these people have done if they realized their holy grails were right beneath their noses?

Or more appropriately, on their plates.

The key to eternal youth is held by none other than the common lobster. Yes, the lobster: red-shelled, big-clawed and six-legged. The same animal whose presence on the menu always drew furtive glances from you, which always ended in disappointment, either because you couldn’t buy such a dish or you did and found it less than valuable. Look into their beady eyes and know the secrets of immortality.

Lobsters never age, they just grow. Their bodies don’t become frailer in time, they don’t need more and more medicine to keep their hearts going and they don’t even lose their sexual potency. In fact, the older a lobster, the more fertile it becomes.

The secret to these oceanic Dorian Grays is an enzyme by the name of telomerase. Telomerase affects telomeres, which are found on the end of all chromosomes and protect these chromosomes from deterioration. However, each time a cell divides, its telomeres are shortened. Eventually, the telomeres become too short to protect the chromosomes and cells begin to lose their ability to divide (known as the Hayflick Limit).

Telomerase acts as a sort of add-on, restoring length to telomeres and thus enabling them to continue protecting the cell. In most animals (including humans), telomerase production rapidly declines with age — hence, the whole dying part.

Lobsters, however, don’t stop producing telomerase; in fact, while most animals show higher levels of telomerase in certain areas of their bodies, lobsters have the enzyme in abundance throughout their body. Couple that with the fact that lobsters shed and recreate their exoskeletons, and there’s nothing to stop a lobster from growing indefinitely.

Except for things eating them, which tends to happen a lot. In fact, after a certain point, the larger a lobster grows the harder it is for the creature to stay alive, since the places it hides from predators become increasingly inaccessible the bigger the lobster gets.

Protected, lobsters have been proven to be incredibly long lived. January of 2009, a New York restaurant freed an allegedly 140-year-old lobster that weighed in at a whopping 20 lbs (which essentially means "Giant George" — as he was affectionately known — was given a death sentence). Currently, Boston University professor Jelle Atema is keeping a lobster to see how big it can grow.

Lobster is %$#@&!* delicious (Image Source)

I can hear some of your minds whirring. You’re thinking: "I’m not in any danger of being eaten, so give me some of that lobster juice." Unfortunately (or maybe not), the lobster path to immortality is strictly inaccessible for humans. It turns out cell deterioration in the human body is a relatively good thing. In humans, cells that surpass the Hayflick Limit tend to become cancerous. So where lobsters get eaten from the outside, we’d be devoured from within.

There you have it. The secret to immortality is useless for humans. If you’re feeling particularly vengeful, go buy a lobster dinner and console yourself with the thought that even though you’ll never live forever, neither will that particular lobster. Or you might go to an aquarium and gaze upon this red crustacean with a little bit more awe. Or you could do what I do, which is to buy a lobster, sit with it in public places, stroke its shell and whisper, "Soon ... soon, my precious."

Whatever you do, I hope a little bit of your mind was blown by the immortal lobster.

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