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Geriatics Gene

[whitespace] Patently offensive: Methuselah lives on

By Bob Harris

THIS JUST IN: Some researchers at Cal Tech are screwing around with the genetic blueprint of the Drosophilia melanogaster fruit fly. These fruit fly geeks have discovered that the little buggers' life spans and ability to react to stress both seem to be linked to a specific gene, a mutation they call the "Methuselah" gene.

Methuselah fruit flies live about a third longer than your average fruit fly, although that's still not long enough to get an operator when you call an airline. And it turns out they also survive stress a lot better, which is probably why they live longer.

The scientists discovered this by subjecting the poor things to starvation, heat, and various horrifying toxins, thus proving conclusively that scientists need to get out more.

Anyhow, it turns out there's a similar Methuselah gene in worms--I mean, some of these science people could really use some sun--and so a lot of aging experts now think that a similar gene might exist in humans.

Or at least that's the opinion of one of the directors of the National Institute on Aging, Dr. David Finkelstein.

Dr. Frankenstein--excuse me, Dr. Finkelstein--thinks that if they can find the human Methuselah gene, then they can play with it and tweak it and build on it and thereby create a better, stronger überhuman.

I do not like where this is going.

Suppose they eventually find this Methuselah gene in humans. Suppose they figure out how to get it turned on. And suppose the procedure is available outside the laboratory.

Who's gonna benefit? Working people like you and me, or the same bunch of banker wankers and Beltway bandits who benefit from everything else?

If you've seen the movie Cocoon, yes, sure, it's fun to imagine a good long soak in the longevity pool.

But who wants to live forever if you have to spend eternity next to Pat Buchanan wearing a Speedo?

AND NOW for something completely different ...

As you probably already know, I'm opposed to both recreational drug use and almost all of the anti-drug campaigns I've ever heard. When I see some actress swinging a frying pan, I don't learn anything. I just flashback to this cute little nut-case chick I dated in Brooklyn 10 years ago. One minute I'm the man of her dreams, the next minute I'm Snuffy Smith and she's Loweezy with a rolling pin. Boink.

Anyhow.

I talk to college kids about drugs all the time. And you get a lot more mileage just by telling the truth.

A 20-year-old guy already knows that marijuana probably isn't going to cause him to have unprotected sex and die of AIDS, which is an actual anti-drug message seen on billboards in many major cities. But if you tell him that long-term use is associated with increased breast growth in men--which it is--all of a sudden you've got his attention. No guy wants to have a bigger cup size than his girlfriend. At least outside of prison.

There are spectacularly strong reasons not to screw around with drugs. And honesty is the only way to get to the other side.

OK. So on the off chance anybody out there is young enough to do the rave scene and dabble around with the street drug Ecstasy, listen up.

A big study from Johns Hopkins has just shown that Ecstasy use can permanently alter your brain chemistry in a way that can screw up your ability to experience the sensations that we call happiness, possibly for life.

How happy you feel is largely related to your brain's ability to manufacture and react to the neurotransmitter serotonin. Lots of mood-altering drugs, including prescription stuff like Prozac, act by manipulating various aspects of your serotonin levels and reactions.

When people mess around with various recreational additives, what they're often doing (without realizing it) is trying to forcibly adjust their serotonin levels. Which works to a certain extent, although usually with the same subtlety and long-term efficacy as changing TV channels with a brick.

This new study shows quite strongly that if you use Ecstasy, there is a dose-related decrease in your brain's ability to transport serotonin. And then you're looking at long-term and possibly permanent risk for depression, anxiety, or even dating me.

Fortunately, there's also some good news on the subject.

If you're already subject to depressions, there's substantial evidence that you might be able to raise your serotonin level by increasing your dietary intake of 5-hydroxytryptophan, which is present in lots of veggie foods, tofu, and other stuff you should already be eating anyway but probably aren't. Which is not to say that tofu is an antidote to Ecstasy. No matter how much some of you carnivores out there might feel as though it is.

In any case, see your doctor before you go mucking about with your brain chemistry. Sure, bizarre side effects are entertaining and all, but you don't want to live with them permanently.

Trust me.

I tried that once in Brooklyn.

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From the November 12-18, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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