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Old 06-26-2005, 09:48 PM   #1
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Immortality?

It's not so impossible after all. Just ask a bunch of 54 year old cervical cancer cells that literally mutated into a separate, self sufficient species that doesn't die from natural causes.

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When human body cells are removed and put into a cell culture, they weaken and die quickly, usually within about 50 divisions. Without the rest of the support structure - a heart, blood circulating, a digestive system and so-on - body cells can't survive. Body cells also age, so even if you were to simulate the body's environment in a test tube or petri dish, the cells would eventually perish anyway. The basic mortality of the cells reflect the basic mortality of the organism they comprise, which is why there's no fountain of youth or medicinal procedure that'll give you biological immortality.

There is, however, one human being who is biologically immortal on a technicality, and her name is Henrietta Lacks. In 1951 she showed up at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, complaining of blood spotting in her underwear. Samples were taken of her cervical tissue and sent to a lab for analysis, which came back with a diagnosis of cervical cancer. The cancer was caused by the human papillomavirus, which is a sexually transmitted disease. Most variants of this virus are harmless, but some are known to cause cervical cancer, as in Henrietta's case. After her diagnosis and before attempts to treat the disease with radium, another sample from the tumor was sent to George Gey, who was the head of tissue culture research at Hopkins. Gey discovered that the cells from Henrietta's tumour would not only survive and multiply outside of her body, but they didn't age either. These cells were basically immortal.

They're still alive.

Now, HeLa cells are about as common in biological research as the lab rat and the petri dish, and are still being grown in an unbroken lineage from the cells originally harvested from Mrs Lacks in 1951. They're used in cancer research because a scientist can perform experiments on them that otherwise couldn't be done on a living human being. They were also used in the development of the polio vaccine, making Henrietta posthumous hero to millions.

Say you're a scientist looking at HeLa cells under a microscope. They live independently of the body they came from. They reproduce (faster even than other cancerous cells). They consume, excrete, and do everything an independent living organism usually does. A thousand years from now there will still be HeLa cells multiplying and living, even some original cells sampled from Mrs Lacks, though Henrietta herself has long since passed away. Is this a new species?

In 1991 the scientific community decided it was, and blessed HeLa cells with its own genus and species: Helacyton gartleri. Helacyton gartleri is an example of speciation, which is when a new species is observed developing from another. In this case, the development is from a chordate (homo sapien) to something that's more like an amœba (a cross-phylum mutation), giving us an animal with a mostly human genotype, but which does not develop into a human-like phenotype. Since this event occurred in nature when the papillomavirus transformed Henrietta's cells, and not in the laboratory, it's a strong piece of evidence supporting evolution (although not one that suggests you could go from an amœba to a chordate, which would probably take more than one mutation).
Curious, isn't it?

Melon
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Old 06-26-2005, 11:18 PM   #2
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thats really strange
so this came from and STD?
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Old 06-27-2005, 10:20 AM   #3
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It did. I wouldn't doubt that viruses have had a long-running role in the evolutionary process. Viruses have been around as long as bacteria, so it's very possible that a virus infected a bacterial cell billions of years ago, and spawned multicellular organisms.

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Old 06-27-2005, 11:05 AM   #4
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It is unlikely that a virus would have spawned multicellular organisms. A virus contains nothing but it's own genetic material (scientists still debate whether they can be considered living or not) and would lack the complexity for all of the necessary changes to take place....Ribosomes, Mitochondria, Golgi Apparattus, etc all had to develop before life could make the jump from unicellular to multicellular. The current theory is that through Endosymbiosis, eukaryotes (cells containing organelles) developed.

http://www.sirinet.net/~jgjohnso/endosymbiosis.html

Only after this specialization occured, could multicellular organisms develop. Once the specialization occurred, it is quite possible that viruses have played a role in evolution.
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Old 06-27-2005, 11:50 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally posted by melon
It did. I wouldn't doubt that viruses have had a long-running role in the evolutionary process. Viruses have been around as long as bacteria, so it's very possible that a virus infected a bacterial cell billions of years ago, and spawned multicellular organisms.

Melon
so all those slutty little amoebas way back in the day helped create mankind
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