Eternal youth

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: February 26, 2018

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Submitted: February 26, 2018



Eternal youth

To live forever, what a thought! His mind was already racing; the scientist in him said it was impossible; not even in this day and age. And-yet, if what he’d discovered proved accurate the “elixir of life” was not just a dream; it was gently bubbling in the test tube in front of him.

Hillary Barton’s short career as a biochemist had been anything but dull. Since leaving Cambridge University five years ago with a first in biochemistry his services had been much sought after. In his final year he’d been recruited by an international pharmaceutical company to join their research and development team. Since then he’d worked on projects ranging from organic computers to stem cell research and the genetic modification of DNA. He found pure research exhilarating; he marvelled at the way nature worked at the cellular and molecular level. How mitochondria in the cytoplasm of cells produced their energy and drove the whole system. He was captivated by the efficiency and complexity of life; but perhaps most of all, he was in awe of the role DNA played in human existence. Discovered in the 1920s as part of the laws of heredity it took until 1953 for Watson and Crick to establish the double-helical structure. During the six or so years Hillary had worked in research, his colleagues had come to regard him as a DNA nut! Hillary was fascinated by the fact that no one could yet explain the evolutionary process which produced DNA. The chemical structure and evolution of living cells from the “primeval swamp” was well understood. Single cell life can even be produced in the laboratory; but DNA can carry a complete copy of the human genome and is able to replicate itself. How this wonderful blueprint came into existence is still a mystery. It was during his latest study of human DNA that he came across the paper that had led to the discovery. He was reading a scientific journal and the piece leapt out at him. It was entitled “DNA damage as the primary cause of ageing”. The article’s first sentence stopped him in his tracks. He remembered it word for word. “DNA damage appears to be ubiquitous in the biological world as judged by the variety of organisms which have evolved DNA repair systems.”The article went on to say that DNA lesions have been shown to interfere with transcription and replication and so lead to loss of cell function and death. It was clear; according to the authors that species longevity is directly related to tissue DNA repair capacity. True there were unanswered questions on some of the research; in particular the special importance of genes that are advantageous in youth but deleterious later on. The fact that there were regulatory genes whose function was actually to reduce DNA repair and aid cell destruction. Hillary had read the piece over and over and the more he thought about it the more convinced he became that prevention of DNA damage was the key to eternal youth.

It had been six months since he first read the article and most days since then he’d thought about the problem and run experiments in his lab to test ideas. The breakthrough had come from an unexpected source. Like most of his best ideas serendipity had rescued a fruitless line of investigation. Hillary had been working on various proteins and monitoring their effect on DNA. His experiments made small changes in the chains of amino acids which made up the protein; the idea was that these mutations would protect DNA from decay. But as he was to discover the answer was simpler than that.

 Hillary had arrived home early for a change and his wife and two daughters were in the kitchen; the children were making cakes; there were jars pots and saucepans all over the place. Hillary loved the way his children threw themselves into cooking. To them it was a vast experiment. Ingredients were weighed and measured of course but they were blended, beaten and mixed with all the enthusiasm of youth. Apparently today’s, session had been devoted to making “brandy snaps” and he could see on the table a small plateful of the tubular sweets. As he went to reach for one, his wife playfully slapped his hand. Don’t eat them now Hillary they will spoil your dinner. Hillary laughed and pulled his hand back, but as he did so he knocked one of the sweets on to the floor. As the small tube hit the tiled surface it shattered into small pieces. They’re a bit brittle said his wife I think we baked them for too long. The next day Hillary couldn’t help thinking about the incident with the brandy snap. Could it be that DNA became brittle as it aged; was it possible that if the double-helical strands of DNA could be kept supple they would last indefinitely? Hillary ran experiment after experiment and to his amazement discovered that the answer was indeed that simple. Hillary managed to isolate an amino acid that with a small modification would adhere to DNA strands and preserve their suppleness. He likened it to lubricating dried leather with polish. Lubrication could be topped up according to how an individual’s metabolism aged its DNA.

Hillary was in a state of shock for a couple of day. Having made such a momentous discovery he wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. He’d run his own experiments alongside the work he was doing for the research team and no one in his group knew he was looking at “species longevity”. First thing of course, he needed to tell his boss. Perhaps the old boy would give him some advice and guidance; or at least tell him how to approach the company to ensure his personal research was protected. Thoughts flooded into his brain as he walked along the corridor leading from his laboratory to the open plan area where his boss’s office was situated. As he came into the open space there was a huge commotion at the other end of the room. A dozen masked people waving baseball bats and pick axe handle came bursting through the door. Hillary stopped in his tracks as he surveyed the gathering mayhem unfolding before his eyes. On the left he could see an “animal rights” banner being waved as desks and people were being overturned. The leading thug spotted Hillary’s white coat and rushed towards him. Taken completely unawares Hillary crashed to the floor with the thug standing over him brandishing a baseball bat .Where are the keys to the animal labs! Screamed the masked figure. I don’t know said Hillary. He was about to say they were in the wrong building when the thug brought the baseball bat crashing down on his knee cap. A searing pain made Hillary gasp as he tried to roll over and protect himself. The thug yelled at him again; tell us where the keys are. I have nothing to do with animal research groaned Hillary, you have the wrong place. Yeah, that’s what they all say snarled the masked man. As Hillary watched the thug raise the club above his head for another vicious strike; a terrible thought crossed his mind. Mankind may not be ready for immortality!

© Copyright 2018 Peter Piper. All rights reserved.

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