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Worms For a Longer Life E-mail
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Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Worms For a Longer Life 

By Ed Smith


The Telegram

They’ve discovered an aging gene in an earthworm. (This is an educational column. I suggest you read through it carefully, then cut out the parts that are too raw for your spouse, and give the rest to your school-age children so they can impress their teachers).

Well, of course, they have. Worms are born, are they not, so it stands to reason that they also die. Ever see one of those little balls of worms in the dirt in the spring? When I was younger, I thought it was simply a bunch of tiny worms having an orgy in some tiny worm’s living room.

Now, of course, I know different. These are worm babies, just like those little balls of spiders that grow under your eaves when it starts to warm up. Although worm babies are found in the dirt and the muck, most people would rather have them around than those little clumps of millions of spider babies that grow in the nice, clean air.

The reason is that you won’t see those little worms running around your floors and your walls and your bed sheets at warp 10, or roughly 10 times the speed of light. Not only are worms slower, but they tend to stay out of your bed.

Even if you do find one they simply squish between you and the sheet, leaving nothing more than a filthy little stain. One squirt of that stuff the guy with the black beard and the Vienna Boys’ Choir voice advertises and that’s it.

Everyone knows spiders bite, leaving great red welts all over the body. If you wake up in the morning and find yourself in the middle of a very large web, it would be better that you not move a muscle.

Back to worms.

Worms also have genes, just like us. Scientists have known that for a million years. What they didn’t know is that a worm also has a gene that regulates aging, and if you treat it a certain way, the worm lives a lot longer.

The worms we’re talking about here are about one millimetre long. A millimetre is about as long as … as a … as a millimetre. That’s nowhere near as long as a s… worm, those small red things we used to find in a pile of s… out behind the barn and which are useless for trouting because they fall apart in the water.

You may wonder, as I do, why they would choose a worm that small to study. It stands to reason that if the worms are that small their genes are relatively smaller as well. That’s the reason, I maintain, that scientists don’t know any more about that gene than they do. It’s too small to study.

There are larger worms. I have seen them. The worms we used to dissect in Biology lab in university were almost as large as us. I had no trouble imagining a little room off the lab where immigrant women were employed stripping the jeans off the worms before they were immersed in formaldehyde, the embalming liquid.

Rubber boots

We were given rubber boots so that we could walk around inside the worms looking for hearts and brains and all that sort of thing. OK, that’s ridiculous, but compared to the 1 mm thing in which they discovered this aging gene, those other worms are like the giants of biblical times.

Just had a horrible thought. When we were little kids, several of our age group had to go through a process called “deworming.” If I remember correctly from listening to others talk about it, the worms were called “pin worms.” At least that’s what it sounded like.

My sister and I may have been subjected to the same treatment but never told about it because it was so embarrassing. I don’t know. The worms, evidently, were very small red things about the size of those worms in which they’re finding the gene.

Now, suppose, just suppose, that these little pin worms had in them that gene which prevents aging, and their function in our little bodies was to retard the aging process later in life. Great heavenly day!

What have our parents done to us? We could be living to 150 and enjoying the warm spring breezes that surround us in May and … On second thought, perhaps having to put up with the kind of April and May we’ve had this year for 150 years is not to be devoutly desired.

And that’s a point. Given the dire warnings about global warming and the proliferation of nuclear weapons among “rogue” states, who amongst us really wants to live beyond the next 50 years? Fine for worms. They’re going to be underground, anyway. The rest of us had better learn to swim like fish and fight like Rambo if we want to survive at all.

Our children and grandchildren? I don’t even like thinking about the world they’ll have to live in. If you haven’t already seen it, and you have a strong heart, get Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Back to our worms.

The scientists at Harvard are deadly serious. They say they’re already able to extend the life of this worm to a significant degree and are continuing to attempt to find a similar gene in mice and humans.

Anyone ready to join a movement that will put an end to this foolishness? Do we really want life extended? We can’t even handle the number of years we’re given now.

What happens if we have even more to screw up?

Ed Smith lives in Springdale.

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