Life & its limits

What are the boundaries in our lives?

Well, clearly nature sets us the most drastic of all: our own finiteness. Every organism on this planet, be it plants, animals or bacteria is facing death. Even single cells are facing biological aging (senescence) … in their case the so called Hayflick limit. The latter is the number of divisions a cell can undergo before it stops dividing due to increasing age. In case of a cell, ageing means not getting grey hair or hearing loss but shortening of telomeres, the protective caps of a cell’s chromosome ends.

For humans aging involves a decline in molecular and cellular functions leading to an increase in error-prone biological processes. So how can we delay the age-related effects of cumulative DNA damage, nasty free radicals & co to enjoy the evening of our life?

Aubrey de Grey argued that this is the wrong question to ask. He proposes instead a more radical vision in which it should be possible for humans to live without any age-related diseases in the near future. In biology, this concept is known under the term negligible senescence. There are a few lucky animals like lobsters that get older without showing common signs of aging, for example loss of strength or decrease in the ability to reproduce. But whether this is achievable for humans is still unclear. As with any pioneering idea, the dream of evading aging provoked criticism that peaked in a $20,000 Challenge from MIT’s Technology Review to disprove Aubrey de Grey’s anti-aging proposals (half the prize money was sponsored by de Grey’s Methuselah Foundation). The challenge is still open…

In his TEDxVienna Unlimited talk he shows that aging is not inevitable and explains his approach “Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence” (SENS).

Personal limits

More familiar to us are our personal boundaries. To a certain degree our individual make-up including our age, genes & environment dictates us some limits. For example some people are more productive in the mornings whereas others are “night owls”. However, there is a certain restriction to how much an individual can deviate from the norm. If your internal biological clock is disconnected from the social time, which is defined by your social engagements and the society you are living in, then one can suffer from social jet lag.

Martha Merrow, professor for chronobiology in Munich, encouraged us to find out our own chronotype and showed us that chronotypes are not set in stone but change with for example age.

Here, you can watch Martha Merrow’s talk about circadian rythms:

The latter mentioned examples of life limits are set by nature. However, limits also exist in our minds.

At the Unlimited conference Ian Usher reminded us to break down this mental limits by asking ourselves “What is your life’s mission statement?” followed by “What excites you?” . We should not get stuck in routines and we need to regularly reflect on our lives. Why he dares to tell us this? Because in 2008 he sold his life on Ebay and freshly started off with list of 100 lifetime goals which he finally achieved in 100 weeks.

Watch the video to hear his amazing journey that freed himself from personal constrains:

Overcoming mental boundaries does not only impact yourself, but might also be beneficial to society as a whole. Mark Kramer demonstrates this point very well. He is a Nomadic Researcher, University Lecturer and ePatient. In 2011, he got to know the limits of healthcare and medicine from a patient’s perspective when he was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lyphoma. In a very personal talk at the Volkstheater, he gave us inside into his transatlantic journey and how surviving a severe illness helped him to
develope innovative digital solutions through patient-centric design.

Don’t miss this one!


Header Image(s) from Pixabay & Gratisography

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About Lisa Landskron

Being a scientist in the field of molecular biology & leading the TEDxVienna Blogger team, Lisa loves to do biochemical as well as digital experiments to create and spread ideas.

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