P5315 Jan 2015
Jack Thompson carefully placed Roger into his cage as Patrick Hughes entered the lab.
“Hey Jack. Yuri missed our weekly. Any idea where he is?” asked the Director, looking concerned.
“What?! He didn’t tell you?” replied Thompson, grinning.
“Tell me what?” inquired Hughes, reaching for a chair.
“P53! It worked! It … more than worked!” said Thompson in an excited whisper. He pulled up a chair next to Hughes, taking his time to contrive an explanation.
“Pat, do you know why most living things don’t live forever?” Thompson asked.
Hughes pondered the question for a second. “Assuming they don’t die of disease or some unfortunate accident, it’s because they get old. Their cells become less efficient with age, having to work just as hard only to get less done. Current science blames it on DNA degradation, isn’t that right?”
“Yes! It’s a fidelity problem!” exclaimed Thompson, his eyes widening with excitement. “With every copy, our genome’s signal to noise ratio decreases, causing the cellular machinery to alter its behavior slightly. Over time, these small errors accumulate, usually leading to what we perceive as aging, and on rare occasion causing cancer and other nasties. Now, let me ask you this,” Thompson continued, “considering how universal senescence is, why do you think that nature hasn’t come up with a fix?”
Hughes sighed, getting impatient. “It’s a diminishing returns problem if I remember correctly. Complex organisms die from predation, disease, hunger, and a myriad of other causes, making their chances of living to old age slim to none. There is no evolutionary pressure to extend lifespan because animals don’t die of old age, they die from being eaten by other animals.” Hughes reached for a pen and a piece of paper. “Look here. If the probability of some creature dying in the span of a single day is 1/1000, then the probability of them surviving for 20 years is (999/1000)^(365*20)=0.067%, which is negligible. So, as long as they reach maturity and reproduce well before then, evolution will consider them fit. No reason to fix what’s not broken. Right?”
“I’m very impressed Dr. Hughes!” said Thompson smiling. “Anyhow, this is where P53 comes in. It is a retroviral gene therapy that was intended to be a cancer vaccine. It improves transcription fidelity and adds new mutation-triggered apoptosis pathways. A few things that nature overlooked. Here’s the kicker though, after vaccination, our simulations show no sign of DNA degradation over millennia. That’s thousands of years, Pat!”
“Wait!” Hughes interrupted. “Am I to understand that the two of you inadvertently created an immortality drug?”
“Roger is our first living test subject,” Thompson replied, glancing at the white mouse on the other side of the room. “But if the simulations are accurate, then he will outlive us all.”
“Who else knows about this?” Hughes asked, reaching for his phone.
“Olovnikov, myself, and now you,” said Thompson. “Why?”
“Brian?” Hughes spoke into the handset, “Code 42, lock us down plea…” before he finished his sentence, Yuri Olovnikov walked into the room. There was fear in the man’s eyes but it was overshadowed by righteous determination.
“King of kings, Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto…” Olovnikov mumbled, his voice trembling. “Forgive me.” His fingers tensed into a fist and the lab was suddenly awash in a brilliant white light.
As the dust from the explosion settled, a small white mouse ran out of the rubble into the grassy underbrush nearby. He had a long life ahead of him.