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WOSTER: Unexpected life expectancy

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opinion Mitchell, 57301
The Daily Republic
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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

You know I don't obsess about age, but like almost anyone else, I like the idea of living a while longer.

Every passing year make it less likely that I'll live "longer,'' but every passing year also means I have lived longer, so there's a balance somewhere. I work with mostly younger people. I suppose anyone who is 70 years old and still working a steady job works mostly with younger people. That's fine by me. The inter-generational workforce has its challenges, but it has its delights, too, and one of these days I'll put a name to what they are.

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The other day, as I talked with a couple of co-workers who are just entering their 40s, I noted that if we all lived to be 80 (pretty close to today's life expectancy), I have 10 years to go and they each have 40 years remaining. We all agreed that nobody knows the day or the hour, but still, 10 years compared to 40? In my current physical and mental state (insert snarky humor here), I wouldn't mind another 40. Casual observation, though, tells me that my current physical and mental state is unlikely to continue four more decades, and maybe in five or 10 years, I'll be thinking less long-term.

My co-workers, by the way, seemed somewhat stunned at the difference in average life expectancy. When you work together, you tend not to dwell on the age difference. Human Resources folks don't like you talking a lot about age in the workplace, and it doesn't really matter, anyway, as long as you can do the job. Even so, they were clearly thinking, "Wow, if I live to 80, I'm only halfway there. This old guy is on the downhill slide.''

I repeat the incident not because I spend my days dwelling on death and dying. I don't. I've been thinking about it some, though, because of a couple of national stories detailing developments that at least hold the potential to someday affect life expectancy and human health. They hold more than passing interest to mature adult.

The first story described how the brains of a study group of old mice were recharged when injected with blood from young mice. One scientist quoted in one story said the studies show that "at least some age-related impairments in brain function are reversible.''

Well, think about it. Suppose the procedure could be transferred successfully to humans? Suppose Alzheimer's disease can be reversed, even prevented? I've read that many older folks die from complications of Alzheimer's. If one could eliminate the disease and its complications, would humans live longer? If they would, could it be ethical to take blood from the young to recharge the old? The stories I read didn't say what happened to the young mice. It's one thing to mess around with transferring blood from mice. It's quite another to do it with humans.

And, maybe nothing will come of it all but a bunch of old mice scurrying around my furnace room with recharged brains. I will stay tuned and keep the traps set.

The other story talked about artificially engineered DNA being passed from living organisms to future generations. Wow. Back in college in the Dark Ages, I studied DNA in basic biology. The text called DNA the building blocks of life, and the photo showed a twisted, many-colored ladder.

I don't understand half of what I read, but it seems to me that if scientists can engineer artificial "building blocks of life,'' we're messing with some pretty significant stuff.

As an older guy, I find interest in the possibility of targeting diseases of the elderly with engineered DNA. Could we prolong life another 10, 20, 50 years? As a human being, I find great interest in the possibility of targeting diseases and other health issues in the young. Could we spare young people an early death and give them a full life expectancy?

As one who worries about the implications of "just because we can do something doesn't mean we should,'' I wonder just how much fooling around with life we should do.

If I live long enough, maybe I'll see how this all turns out.

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