When was the last time you really looked down at the ground you walk upon? The soil from your backyard - or the next street over, or a nearby graveyard, or the park across the way - could contain the key to advancing real anti-aging science: bacterial enzymes capable of repairing biochemical damage that accumulates with time and leads to age-related disease.
The Methuselah Foundation, which administers the $3.5 million MPrize for anti-aging research, commenced funding the search for these bacterial enzymes last year. The research program is called LysoSENS, the name stemming from the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, or SENS. The object of this research is to break down and render harmless the age-related buildup of lysosomal toxins your body cannot handle by itself.
Cells have a lot of reasons to break down big molecules and structures into their component parts, and a lot of ways to do so. Unfortunately, one of the main reasons to break things down is because they have been chemically modified so that they no longer work, and sometimes these chemical modifications create structures that are so weird that none of the cell's degradation machinery works on them. This is very rare, but in the long run it adds up. The place where it adds up is called the lysosome, a special vessel that contains the most powerful degradation machinery in the cell; if something can't even be broken down there, it just stays there forever. This doesn't matter in cells that divide regularly, because division dilutes the junk away, but non-dividing cells gradually fill up with this stuff -- different types of stuff in different types of cell. The heart, the back of the eye, some nerve cells (especially motor neurons) and, most of all, white blood cells trapped within the artery wall all suffer from this. Eventually these cells can't take any more and they stop working right. This is the sole cause of atherosclerosis (the formation of lumps, called plaques, in the artery wall, which eventually burst and cause heart attacks and strokes). It is also important in several types of neurodegeneration and in macular degeneration (the main cause of blindness in the old). So it's very important to fix it.
In the search for suitable enzymes, as wide a range of samples as possible from around the world is vital. John Schloendorn, one of the LysoSENS researchers, is asking for your help to extend the range of this work! By digging a little dirt from your neighborhood, you can help to bring on the era of real, working anti-aging medicine:
I am pleased to announce that thanks to recent progress, the need for soil donations has arisen once more.
Whatever you contribute now will become the foundation of a growing DNA library that will probably accompany us until the three LysoSENS targets (intracellular junk, extracellular junk, xlinks) are out of the way. In this first public offensive in the war on aging, the online life-extension community can truly make all the difference, by contributing their local microbial diversity. Show the scientific community how much you want to see aging defeated, by helping us make the most remarkable DNA library on this planet!
All types of environmental samples are suitable. Try to avoid sending whole plant and animal parts, since we are interested only in microbes. Otherwise, there is just one rule: Biodiversity is key.
If you choose to send us samples, please do so immediately after you obtain them. Do not store them unnecessarily. For packaging we would recommend to wrap solid samples in plastic, liquid samples in some sort of screwcap bottle and put them in a suitably sized parcel. 100-200 grams ("a handful") will be a plentiful amount. Cooling or sterile handling will not be necessary. Please also add a brief description of where and when you took the sample. Please send your sample(s) to:
By regular mail:
The Biodesign Institute
PO Box 875701
Tempe, AZ 85287-5701
(The above address cannot receive FedEx / UPS shipments)
By FedEx / UPS:
K. Anderson / Schloendorn
The Biodesign Institute
1001 South McAllister Ave
Tempe, AZ 85287-5701
(Apparently, the above address cannot receive regular mail -- sorry about the trouble).
UPDATE: Schloendorn has put up a web page with more details, including a small contest for the most interesting soil sample.
Biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey, chairman of the Methuselah Foundation, added this:
I want to emphasise the importance of John's push for diversity in soil samples. Don't do anything dangerous to get them, but bear in mind that any environment with an abundance of unusual organic compounds is likely to harbour microbes that can break those compounds down, and thus can probably also break down a variety of similar compounds. Since we have quite a few target compounds (things that accumulate in different tissues), the chances of striking lucky will not reach diminishing returns for a long while yet. John and Jacques are set up to test a wide range of samples in parallel and we're working hard to secure more funding to bring more manpower onto the project, so there is no danger of your sample being discarded because the researchers are swamped!
The funding for serious, directed anti-aging science is starting to roll in - by helping to support LysoSENS, you help to build the scientific community and infrastructure that will provide additional healthy years for all of us. So get out there and get digging!
For further discussion on this topic, and to meet like-minded diggers of dirt for healthy life extension research, visit the Immortality Institute forum to read and contribute to the main LysoSENS thread.