immortality as an engineering problem

James james at nospam.com
Fri Jul 17 13:16:58 EST 1998

Many readers of this group, even if they can critically evaluate a scientific
paper, may not be familiar with scientific publishing considerations.  Read on -
hopefully this will prove interesting.

> > The "distant future" may be closer than you think.  Dr. J.Shay et.al.
> > published a report in SCIENCE Jan 16;279(5349):349-352 showing that by
> > extending the telomeric length at the ends of human chromosomes that those
> > cells would survive beyond their normal senescence and death.

> > Dr. C. Greider
> > in current biology Vol. 8, No. 5, Feb. 1998 showed that the precursor to the
> > enzyme telomerase, hTERT, can, by acting on the telomeres, cause human cells
> > to live beyond their normal senescence and death.

The experiments conducted by Shay et al. in the SCIENCE article have never been
successfully repeated.  At least two labs have tried and failed (and those are just
the ones I happen to know of - there are almost certainly more).

Excelife has cited the Current Biology paper in support of the reproducibility of
Shay's work.  It certainly looks like good corroboration at first glance.  But what
is really going on here?  Consider the following points:

1)  These experiments take months to years to perform, and then take months to get
published.  The Current Biology paper came out one month after the SCIENCE paper.
Which means that there is no way that the people from the Current Biology paper
were attempting to reproduce the work done in SCIENCE, since the two groups had to
have been working on the problem simultaneously for quite some time.  So how did it
come to pass that these papers come out one month apart?

2)  There are a couple possible explanations for the back-to-back publication of
these papers.  One is coincidence (which strikes me as unlikely - see #3).  The
other is that the two groups were working together and planned to publish the
papers in this fashion , so that both could refer to the other for support.  Is
this really what happened?  I have no idea, but it is certainly possible.

3)  If it as coincidence, and the two groups did not have some sort of agreement
(like "We'll publish the big paper, and then you can publish a little supporting
one that verifies our results"), why didn't the Canadian group submit their paper
to a more respected journal?  No offense to Current Biology, but it is not a
prestigious journal - and this paper would have been HUGE news.  People always try
to get their paper in the most prestigious journal that will accept it.  It makes
you look better.

Don't forget that, because the review and publishing process takes months, at the
time the Canadian group submitted their paper to Current Biology the SCIENCE paper
was not yet out - so it's not like they were relegated to publishing in a
second-tier journal because the subject was old news.  They should have been
submitting this paper to SCIENCE, Nature, Cell, or PNAS.  Or maybe they did and it
was rejected.  Something is suspicious here.  They had some reason for submitting
to Current Biology.  Either the experiments were poorly done and other journals
would not accept the work, or something was going on behind the scenes.

4)  No one in my lab has ever even HEARD of the Current Biology paper.  Does that
prove anything?  No.  But it is additional reason to be suspicious.  Generally when
a paper is out that should be news, but no one pays attention to it, that is
because people have decided that the work is junk.

> In plain english they have found the cause and the cure for aging.

He makes this statment, but then goes on to provide a huge list of caveats that
totally invalidate it.  Even if you assume that the SCIENCE paper is true, which is
a big assummption at this point, no, they haven't found the cause or cure for
aging.  At best that have found some interesting ways to help burn victims and
maybe regrow other organs in the future by increasing the ability of cells to
replicate.  Aging is much more than this.

More information about the Ageing mailing list

Send comments to us at biosci-help [At] net.bio.net