Chemopreservation Versus Cryopreservation

A mind is information. The fine structure of the brain is a mind, information stored in physical structures we are slowly beginning to understand. Preserve the structure of the brain after death, and there is the possibility of restoration to life at a later date, through the use of plausible future technologies. The important thing is that the information is retained - with that in hand, all the details of future restoration from death are well within the realm of what physics tells us is possible.

All we can do today is the preservation part of the equation - but that's all we have to do for now. The dead have all the time in the world to wait, provided we can maintain the fine structure of their brains. Cryonics providers vitrify the brain and body for low-temperature storage in vats of liquid nitrogen, indefinite storage after death paid for by life insurance in most cases.

But why cryonics? Over at Depressed Metabolism, Greg Jordan makes the case for the development of low temperature storage infrastructures to be something of an accident of history. Other options exist:

Twenty years ago, Charles B. Olson published an article called "A Possible Cure for Death" in the journal Medical Hypotheses. In it, he favorably compares methods of chemical preservation to cryogenic preservation. Unfortunately, this article provoked no wide discussion or attempts at implementation. As the author has noted, other than requests for reprints, "nothing more came of it." And yet the arguments in it are still sound and just as persuasive today as they were then.


Part of the confusion around chemopreservation concerns the quality of preservation that is possible with this method. Chemical methods of preservation such as fixation are not only adequate, they have long been the gold standard for biologists studying the structure of cells and the brain.


If personal identity is preserved in the brain in physical structures such as synaptic circuits, then we know that chemopreservation can preserve these structures just as well as cryopreservation.

It makes for interesting reading material, though I'm not sure that the economic argument in favor of chemopreservation can be made without a better analysis of the infrastructure you'd need for continuing safe storage of the preserved. See what you think.


Since many years ago, I was thinking about spontaneous "biostasis" of some plants species like Myrothamnus flabellifolius, Selaginella leptophylla (the "Jericho Rose, or Fern") and other, so called "resurrection plants", whose leaves dry out turning brown as if dead, then turn green again when water is available; there are even animal organisms able to do that, like well-known Tardigrada. It's very important because all of them are Eucaryota, not Procaryota (Bacteria etc), so their cell structure is very alike ours. This process should be different from bacterial "encystment", I mean. And I thought of course, that perhaps the same biochemical mechanisms could been exploited for keeping in "suspended animation" humans too, maybe even in a simpler way than cryonics, provided it were possible. I wondered about why, thorough researches weren't extensively carried out about that; a first, simple use could have concerned safety of crops, by making crop plants able to dry out in a reversible way, by gene transfer; in such case, a genetic modification could be a direct way to get the effect, yet I would be much more interested in the possibility for us, to directly resort to the codified enzymes. I believe such "self-drying" organisms, rather than being radically different from us as to overall proteic structures, perhaps have some enzymes, that "protect" from denaturation their proteic molecules, no matter if they're "normal" ones. I'm not a biologist nor a biochemist, yet I suppose that one of the major cellular damages caused by straigh dehydration, could be represented by a higher "salt" density in the cytoplasma, resulting in the denaturation of proteins (the same I suppose should happen with -unprotected- refrigeration, as ice growth within the cell would result not only in mechanical damages, but even in over-concentrated water remains, that would denaturate proteins about the same way. And at this regard, I would ask Biochemists, if "protein denaturation" is always and absolutely an irreversible process -that is, fundamental "information" is lost-, or it's at least conceivable, that it could be made reversible, theorically if not in practice yet).
In the first way, it should be adscertained if neural cells, then neural tissue can be cajoled to behave that way; if this turns out to be possible, then whole "dry-preservation" of the brain would be almost surely possible; and then, whole body's too, even if the latter could be of secundary importance, at this point.
Denaturation -meant as loss of "structural information"- would have the utmost importance for neurons, as proteic chains could have a role in encoding our "memories".
And I guess that usual "chemio-preservation", e.g. with Formaldehyde, would imply a denaturation as well; ethanol does the same, as long as I know; I strongly doubt, that even a single cell preserved under formaldehyd could ever be made live again; but perhaps there are chemio-preservatives that don't disrupt proteic structure in an irreversible way?

Fabrizio Lucente

Posted by: Fabrizio at March 4th, 2008 3:24 PM
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