Long-Lived Trees are Not Immortal

Trees can adopt a range of strategies not available to animals in order to live for very long periods of time, but they are not immune to mechanisms of aging. That said, those mechanisms are only broadly similar to the biochemistry of aging in animals. It isn't clear that there is anything useful to learn from long-lived plants insofar as human medicine is concerned. Nonetheless, it is an interesting area of study.

The oldest trees on Earth have stood for nearly five millennia, and researchers have long wondered to what extent these ancient organisms undergo senescence, physically deteriorating as they age. A recent paper studying ginkgoes, one of the world's longest-lived trees, even found that they may be able to "escape senescence at the whole-plant level," raising questions about the apparent lack of aging in centuries-old trees. However, researchers argues that although signs of senescence in long-lived trees may be almost imperceptible to people, this does not mean that they're immortal.

"When we try to study these organisms, we're really astonished that they live so long. But this doesn't mean that they're immortal. They live so long because they have many mechanisms to reduce a lot of the wear and tear of aging. They have limits. There are physical and mechanical constraints that limit their ability to live indefinitely." However, due to the difficulty of conducting research on trees with such long lifespans, little is known about what the process of senescence looks like. Simply finding enough millennial trees to study can be challenging. "When a species of tree can live for five millennia, it's very difficult to find even two trees that are between two and five millennia." For these long-lived trees, dying of senescence is a possibility, but the probability of dying from other causes is significantly higher.

Trees have a variety of ways to reduce their chances of death from aging alone, from compartmentalizing risk in complex branch structures to "building life on death" by growing new shoots from trunks composed of 90% nonliving biomass. But researchers maintain that even though long-lived trees can survive for millennia through these methods, the stress associated with aging, although little, will ultimately prevent immortality.

Link: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/cp-dde072020.php


Yggdrasil is the tree in viking mythology that was evergreen. Even in that tale it was not immortal. Snakes feeds at its roots. It was the world tree. In real trees we would see them live far beyond millennia if some took care of them all those millennia. We should start a project that has the goal to get trees live as long as possible with outside help. Inject them with stem cells, etc. I have bonsai and its a hobby alls would adopt. It fosters long term thinking and health.

Posted by: Norse at August 3rd, 2020 5:45 AM

Ginkgo biloba leafs can be bought as supplements and its shows in abstract papers that it prevents AD.

Posted by: Gekki at August 3rd, 2020 6:08 AM

What Ive become interested in is how things wear and tear, not only biology. Take example electronics. In integrated circuits some circuits will be destructed. Then we have the new field of spintronics were theres not that high current. It lasts for far longer. Maybe it will be possible to make circuits that will last forever.

Posted by: thomas.a at August 3rd, 2020 6:15 AM

You right that "aging" in plants is not much useful for human aging intervention. Trees essentially die and are reborn each year. This is what accounts for the tree rings seen when a tree is cut down. Nevertheless, it is interesting research from a biology standpoint.

Posted by: Abelard Lindsey at August 3rd, 2020 9:10 AM

This is speculation rather than fact. I also heard Crocodiles can live indefinitely also under the right circumstances.

Posted by: Person1234 at August 3rd, 2020 10:00 AM

Hi there! Just a 2 cents.

Yes, the trees shed 'themselves' all the time; thus the uppert part of a tree (trunk...) is more like a constant rejuvenating thing; then an actual 'set' thing (that aged from the very start and is the same)..it is because of this repeated auto-rejuvenating/auto-shedding that the trees live this long; but roots it seems may be a bit different; the tree roots don't rejuvenate as much (as the trunk/branches) and the roots are the roots 'at the start'; up to a limit; for example; a Great Basin Bristle Cone Pine (from California) lives 5000 years....it is that same tree for 5000 years; but it is not the same tree anymore; since it rejuvenated itself thousands of times....thus it another entity from the one 5000 years ago; but its roots, is a little different, the roots are also rejuvenated; but less often it seems; they say that the roots if there is no trunk/branches/upper part...they would live approx. 200-300 years...alone; with no rejuvenation; and then die (at 200-300). Thus, the 'real' true age of any tree is no more than 200-300 (in its roots); but the 'clonal/rejuvenation' capacity of it makes it be viable/living for 5000 years; as long as it keeps on diong this auto rejuvenation. It does so by meristem cells in meristem compartmetn in the trunk; it uses all the starches/glucoses/sugars it accumulated (a giant California Red Pine super tall, weighting tons....has tons of starches (in the trunk) 'to feed on' and repair itself/grow itself/grow new branches/leaves); it is the surrogate of the liver glycogen; like stocking this energy/fuel 'for later repair/need if needed then or, for forever growth/near *mmortality'....they did studies on the root/trunk stem cells and other cells; they have stem cells that rebuild tree tissues and they have cyclic telomerase bouts; like telomerase reactivates itself after a while - like a 'spring cleaning/spring boost' (I would wager it's pretty much active all the time; hence they keep enough telomeres (in their meristematic stem cells of the trunk and roots) and have basically null-0 telomere loss/per year; like cancer in a sense, which are dividing infinitely/tech. *mmortal by overcoming cell division hayflick limit). What can we learn/extrapolate from them/put into application for humans? Truthfully, not much, trees are basic organisms; we are complex organisms with multi-organs...and it's why we are mortal (we are too complex = error prone/can't make it work)...while, basic organisms (like trees; or jellyfish/corals/mollusk/clams...... simple = error-free = perfect for eternal life etc) can be *mmortal.

Just a 2 cents.

Posted by: CANanonymity at August 3rd, 2020 11:49 AM

Have you ever been up to the giant trees in Yosemite? About half of them have visible scaring from lightning strikes, and some of the damage is severe. About 50 to 100 people die from lightning strikes in the USA every year. Here is a list of causes of mortality: https://www.nsc.org/work-safety/tools-resources/injury-facts/chart . Interesting to count the limited number that apply to trees, and trees away from people and roads ;) . For example, I suspect very few large trees die from shark attacks and being struck by a dog. In fact, as far as collisions go, I suspect trees give as good as they get.

Posted by: Thomas Schaefer at August 4th, 2020 7:32 AM

Hi Thomas! Thank you for that.

I've never gone/seen them this close; it must be a sight. I had seen some pics of this lighting strike scarring...when you think about it; these trees are the/our 'protectors' by 'redirecting' the lightning current to the ground..when lightining hits down...they are self-sacrificial; but even after being struck by lightning; they still hold (humans have been hit by lightning...and survived...but most people struck by lightning perish because of the extreme current completely shuts down organs; or the rare miracle occasion there were survivors.and they showed their gruesome lightining strikes (on their head temple/neck/skull/hand..and the 'exiting wound' of their feet/calf..where the current exited their body to go/disperse in the ground soil; its tar like/as if the skin became gangrenous). It's even more scary/spectacular/sad..that some have been 'hit in chain'...like 3 people where under the lightning ..and 1 single lightning strike 'traversed through 3 bodies'...in a chain effect (not just one person/body)...and exited/dispersed in the ground...all of them have 'entry wounds'/'exit wounds' where the lightning bolt entered/exited each body in succession. It 's even more sad, that there might be 1 person that survives it...but the other 2 or 3 people all hit perish/electrocuted to death in the accident. Because not one body will respond the same when near 1 million volts go throufh you (it's the same as electric chair that was used long ago; but much stronger 'natural sky' current; it's why it's a miracle that people surived it). But trees are very hardy; like those huge pines; the scars show it; it takes more than that to put them down (I ahve seen backyard big trees 'split into 2'..by lightining strike....it's amazing that certain trees absorb it all..while others 'pass the current' and thus are less damaged; the 'Conduction' is important to mitigate damage; the more conducing the less absorption; you just 'pass it down/current'; of course it does damage; but it seems 'absorbing it/staying in the body/entity' will yeild much more damage becayse 'not passing it down' to ground); a 5000-10000 year old tree would be hiit by lightning at some point...and maybe several times;; it's impressive...it shows that if we humans were 'standing still/never moving an inch...in the same spot...for thousands of year.....one day..or another...a storm would happen...and we would die of lightning strike...we have 1 chance out of 1 million or so of being hit...but in thousand years..that 1 chance can happen (it'S why I stay inside when lightning starts...I don't go running for it/'play under it')). It's why extrinsic factors that cause death (lightning strike, car accident, airplane crash, homicide, accidents...etc)...will be an important element to mitigate somehow...cause we 'take our chances/spin the roulette...' everyday we walk out of our door (life expentancy dropts the minute you leave your door - because of extrinsic dangers; we will solve instrinsic cause of death - aging...but extrinsic factors...are the ones we will have to Reduce The Odds/Risks...to near 0.00000000000000000% (which I know is impossible; but that is the target - a 0 odds of these risks; because risks are always present in everything; but lessening them is the most important thing we will ahve to work on in the future - if we do live 5000 years old like that
near/semi-eternal tree)

Just a 2 cents.

Posted by: CANanonymity at August 4th, 2020 9:45 PM

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