The Citrus Phi Theta Kappa honor society is studying scientific research on telomeres and how to slow down the aging process.
The quest to find the fountain of youth is on at Citrus College.
Project team leader Nestor Aquino, 19, explained that at the end of each pair of chromosomes is a telomere, a structure that resembles a shoelace or tail.
According to the research the honor society is reviewing, each time a cell divides the telomere becomes smaller and aging occurs.
“When the telomere gets short enough the cell goes into apoptosis, which is cell death,” Aquino said. “Then the cell loses too much DNA to properly code for some proteins.”
Aquino explained that in the 1980s, biologist Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak discovered the shortening of telomeres with each cell division.
With this knowledge, they learned how to prevent the shrinkage.
“What they discovered was that some cells were living longer than others, so something was adding to the telomere,” Aquino said, “A ribonucleic enzyme was adding DNA to the end of the telomere to maintain its length.” The honor society students have also looked into other scientists’ work on telomeres.
They found that researchers at the Harvard Medical School conducted an experiment where they halted the shortening of the telomeres.
They observed that the mice organ function became more efficient and each mouse’s fur started to grow back longer and healthier.
The honor society also found that having the ribonucleic enzyme add DNA to the end of all telomeres would maintain elasticity of skin cells, thus preventing wrinkles.
The longer telomeres could also prevent age-related disease such as Alzheimer’s.
“The telomere has been dramatized as the elixir of life and can cause people to live longer,” Aquino said.
However, preventing the shortening of telomeres could have unforeseen consequences. Phi Theta Kappa treasurer, Jack Shortroen, said the process could increase an individual’s vitality rate.
He believes many people will oppose the research because of ethical issues.
Nicole Wassef, president of the honor society, said she believes there are two main ethical problems when it comes to the telomere research, one being availability.
“This is not going to be cheap or reasonably priced,” Wassef said.
If this procedure for maintaining the length of telomeres become viable, it will only be affordable to the wealthy.
Wassef’s main concern is that the people who really need the procedure would not be able to use it because it would not be accessible.
The second and most controversial aspect of adjusting the telomeres is the issue of “playing God.”
“Many religions see life as a gift from God and you can’t manipulate this gift,” Wassef said. “It is not your place to do that.
Even if we invest thousand of dollars into this ‘medication,’ does that mean you are going to live forever? No, it does not. There is reason why we are here for a certain number of days.”
Stortroen, 20, also discussed the matter of plateauing.
“If you choose to maintain the length of your telomeres constantly, at what point will your body plateau?” Stortroen asked, “Just like in some cases of vaccines, your body gets used to it, so it does not work anymore.”
The most important part of the project is enlightening Citrus students as to what the team members have learned from the research they studied.
Honor society members plan to ask students and professors what they think about the telomere research and how it could affect the world.
“We drafted an eight question questionnaire asking students and faculty what their opinion is on the topic,” Wassef said. “We are trying to get 500-1000 student opinions.”
Phi Theta Kappa can send the surveys out once the they become finalized and approved by Citrus College’s Office of Institutions. The honor society also plans to inform students on what they have learned with an event occuring mid-January.
“We had a meeting with ASCC where we wrote up a budget proposal and asked for $1000 and it looks like we are going to get it,” Wassef said.
The money is funding the food, decoration and advertising for the event.
Phi Theta Kappa also plans to have a speaker from City of Hope to present at the gathering.
Club adviser and history professor, Brian Waddington, Ph.D said he hopes the research the honor society is conducting can be presented at the spring regional convention in Nevada.
Wassef expressed that she hopes the research they are studying will win an award at the convention.