Have Scientists Found the Secret of Aging?
There’s a tragic disease that speeds up aging. Known as progeria (Huntington-Gilford progeria syndrome, HGPS), it is caused by a single point mutation in exon 11 of the NMLA gene. Children afflicted with this disease look old beyond their years and often die at 13 of heart attack and stroke – essentially, of old age.
A team of scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), publishing in PNAS,1 investigated the results of this mutation.2 They found that the gene builds a mutant lamin-A protein named progerin/LA-delta-50 that lacks the cleavage site to remove a string of RNA during protein synthesis. As a result, when it comes time for the cell to divide, “During interphase, irreversibly farnesylated progerin/LA-delta-50 anchors to the nuclear membrane and causes characteristic nuclear blebbing” [i.e., bulging]. This causes “abnormal chromosome segregation and binucleation.”
The NIH team followed up on a recent study that small amounts of the mutant protein are found in normal fibroblasts (cells that give rise to connective tissues, like collagen). They wondered if this is implicated in the normal aging process. We all have a tiny amount of this mutant protein, the studies suggest. Fortunately, anti-progerin antibodies monitor our connective tissues looking for giant nuclei and cells with two nuclei, and induce them to self-destruct (apoptosis).
What appears to go wrong, though, is that some of the mutant cells get through the defenses. The team believes that there is some kind of “irreversible switch” in late-passage cells, allowing the cryptic splice to proceed, “initiating a series of events that lead to mitotic defects and ultimate senescence.” If this is true, we all have progeria. The unfortunate victims of HGPS just have a faster version. Here’s their conclusion:
In summary, our studies demonstrate the abnormal membrane association and dynamic behavior of progerin/LA-delta-50 during mitosis, which lead to aberrant chromosome segregation in both HGPS and normal cells. These observations further implicate progerin/LA-delta-50 in the normal aging process, suggesting that the same molecular mechanisms responsible for the mitotic defects in HGPS may also act at a low level in normal cells at higher passage. Taken together with results of previous studies, these data add increasing confidence to the long-held assumption that the study of genetic forms of premature aging can shed important light on the normal process of aging.
One of the co-authors of the paper is Francis S. Collins, head of the Human Genome Project. Dr. Collins is a church-going, born-again Christian whose recent book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, expounded his own theistic-evolution position on origins.
1Cao, Capell, Erdos, Djabali, and Collins, “A lamin A protein isoform overexpressed in Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome interferes with mitosis in progeria and normal cells,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 10.1073/pnas.0611640104, published online before print March 14, 2007.
2“This mutation does not cause an amino acid change (G608G), but partially activates a cryptic splice donor site and leads to the in-frame deletion of 150 bp within the prelamin A mRNA. This truncated prelamin A mRNA is then translated into a protein recently named progerin/LA-delta-50. The Zmpste24/FACE1 cleavage site is missing in progerin/LA-delta-50 because of the internal 50-aa [amino acid] deletion, so that progerin/LA-delta-50 retains the C-terminal farnesylation.”
Though we reject Collins’ position on theistic evolution, we respect his epochal work on the human genome and this study that may shed light on normal aging while helping children afflicted with HGPS. The idea that God somehow front-loaded all the design into the beginning and let it all evolve from there has three problems. First, it won’t keep the Darwinists from criticizing him, because it does not contain the chance element essential to Darwinian philosophy. Second, it cannot be true, because it would require either a strict determinism that runs counter to our knowledge of quantum physics or else would require 24×7 intervention by God to guide the evolutionary process. Third, the evidence is against it. Fossil and molecular evidence both fail to illustrate a gradual unfolding of complexity. But we digress; these issues have been taken up in vibrant debates in the creation and ID community during Collins’ recent book tours and interviews by the press (see example of Evolution News).
Think about this finding. Though it would be reckless to conclude too much about aging at this point in our knowledge, nothing so far is inconsistent with the Biblical view that death is an abnormality. Physical aging appears linked to the accumulation of defects. It was not, therefore, part of the original perfect design. Normally, these defects would be prevented by all the elaborate quality-control mechanisms in the body. Something has gone wrong. This is not the way God originally designed the world.
When the first man and woman sinned, according to Genesis, they were expelled from the Garden and the Tree of Life. God had warned them that the day they disobeyed they would surely die. Theologically, they became separated from God at once (spiritual death). Physically, though, all God had to do was loosen the quality control in the genes, or prevent the constant physical renewal that might have occurred prior to the curse, either as a result of the direct fellowship with God (who is Life), or with a secondary source of renewal He provided (the Tree of Life). The curse, then was denial of access to the ongoing source of life. To be dead is to be disconnected from the source of life. Pick a flower and it dies immediately, though it continue to show its outward beauty for a few days. The human body was left to “coast” with its own internal repair mechanisms. Incredibly reliable and sophisticated as these are, they cannot stop all the ravages of decay. Physical death was only a matter of time.
The good news is that God has turned the curse into an opportunity to bless us even more than before. Think of how tragic it would be to live forever in a fallen physical state, separated from God for eternity. The Creator came into this world to suffer the curse of death, that He might redeem us from death – we who are dead in sin, and enemies (read Ephesians). As Judge of the universe, He could have killed the rebels immediately. Why did he give us time? Because He is patient and merciful, He gives each individual a measure of time unknown to anyone but Himself. Were we each to know our time, most would postpone repentance till the last minute. Not knowing, we can never escape the possibility every moment that this could be the day our soul is required of us.
Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (I Corinthians 15). These Christian doctrines will be celebrated by millions during the upcoming Easter season. By faith we can accept His sacrifice on our behalf. He promises to those who come to Him that we will live again with Him in a new creation, where there is no more curse. Our bodies will age and die, but as the apostle Paul said, for the Christian “death is swallowed up in victory.” Our bodies go to the grave, like seeds in the earth, only to sprout into a new creation by the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead.
Having died and rose again, Christ has become the first fruits of a harvest that will share in that resurrection. With this blessed hope, we can work on earth with steadfastness and joy, knowing that our labor is not in vain in the Lord (I Cor. 15:58). The most stark difference of all between Biblical creationists and secular evolutionists is right here. Where are we going? And how should we live? To the secularist, there is only aging, death, decay and the ultimate cessation of all activity in a pointless universe that generated life for nothing. For the Christian, the outlook is totally different. It is filled with joy and purpose. In the new creation (Revelation 21), there is no more curse, sorrow, aging, or death, but access to the Tree of Life forever in the city of God. This gives purpose and joy and direction to life. In the Lord, our labor is not in vain.
If you are an evolutionist and have been reading these pages, perhaps you have been struggling with the increasing evidence that the case for evolution is going poorly, and that the universe and life really do appear designed for a purpose. Defend materialism as you might during your healthy days, none of the intellectual arguments will matter much when the aging process catches up with you. While there is time, while there is hope, will you not think seriously about these things? Consider again the evidence of design (e.g., this article). Maybe you’ve been reading our pages for years, and maybe you are finding the evidence compelling, but the reality of God has not gotten from your head to your heart. The Bible tells that the all-wise Creator who alone can explain the complexity and design in the world has revealed Himself in His word and in person, in His Son Jesus Christ – the Lord. Christ died for you. 2000 years ago, He walked this earth, was crucified in Jerusalem, a city with geographical coordinates we know. After His resurrection, He appeared in Jerusalem, Emmaus, and Galilee, at places you can visit.
This is not some fable. Evolutionists tell just-so stories that can never be checked by observation, but the Bible can be corroborated historically (see, for example, the video clips from Lee Strobel on The Bible and Christ). History shows that a band of frightened fishermen and commoners in Jerusalem were transformed and changed the world. How? What made the apostles willing to travel the world, suffer torture and persecution, each one dying as a martyr without flinching to the death? The only answer that makes sense is that they saw the risen Christ and became changed men. The followers of Christ, both men and women, received the power of his Holy Spirit, as He had promised, to become His witnesses to all people, nations, tribes and languages (Acts 1).
That same risen Lord Jesus Christ is alive today. Patiently He waits for you to accept His offer of pardon and new life. Why delay any longer? Today could be your passage from inevitable death to eternal life.
For further help, here is a brief explanation of God’s plan of salvation, and here is where to find more help at Christian Answers. The most detailed Biblical passages on God’s plan of redemption are Paul’s letter to the Romans and the epistle to the Hebrews; a shorter, simpler explanation can be read in I John. If you have decided to follow Christ, we would like to hear from you confidentially at our feedback line. Take your knowledge to the point of commitment – do it today.