A few decades ago, the brightest of medical talents aka bioscientists⁶ pioneered a miraculous process to inhibit cellular senescence⁷ and slow down ageing otherwise referred to as degradation at cellular level. This extraordinary biotechnology breakthrough was an unprecedented game changer transforming the game along with the entire playing field. Their main objective was not longevity as such but rather curing disease in order to prolong good health. The gerontologists seized control of the natural process of deterioration, which reigned supreme and unchallenged since the first cell ever divided. They claimed victory as they laughed in the impervious face of mother nature. Senolytics⁸ began to destroy worn and torn cells, so the zombie cells were no longer allowed to pump out inflammatory proteins and damage healthy surrounding tissue. Nature’s epigenetic clock was a formidable timekeeper silently ticking away in the background like the deathwatch beetle, however the power to revert adult cells back to an embryonic-like state or iPSC⁹ zero was the key to rejuvenation. The race to slow the hands of time was becoming a reality, which meant biological age was really just a number after all. They discovered the proteins to slow down the ticking of the proteomic clock; a biomarker to track health span. However, this discovery was far more incredible than a step tracker as it counted time in human biology, so it was a time-tracker. Once you find the root cause of a problem it is usually not long before some genius invents the solution. Being able to slow down the natural clock and promote healthy ageing was like finding the elixir of life and the former natural cruel methods of ‘culling’ each generation with disease and sickness was over. The day they ‘hit the brakes’ marked the start of a worldwide renaissance.
The superheroes cured disease and the anti-aging sector boomed as the editors honed their skills to help the population in a new era of personalized medicine. By AD 2019 they could already manipulate over 13,000 edits in a single cell, breaking former records and setting the tone for a promising future. The power to spare the new generation from the doom of disease and hereditary conditions rolled out as the latest ‘cut and paste’ technology performed its magic and it was remarkably efficient purging defective genes and rebooting cells in transforming petri dishes. The technicians continued to develop increasingly intricate proven formulas to manufacture life using a potent cocktail of genome insertion, correction or inactivation techniques and other impeccable wizardry. What a monumental milestone since the early days of editing cells inside the body when their quest began by focusing on genetic disorders like high cholesterol and muscular dystrophy.
Science and technology rode a wave of unparalleled progress converging in a burst of excellence as the course of natural evolution was systematically stopped ‘dead’ in its tracks. Regenerative medicine replenished, replaced and rejuvenated extending vitality and longevity. Stem cells taken from the placenta or umbilical cord were injected into joints or taken intravenously liberating the older generation and the sick. It is hard to believe that when the corrective technology arrived it was largely ignored outside the scientific community and not given much credence until the spectacular results of human clinical trials could no longer be ignored. The infamous ‘timing is everything’ was never truer as the biotechnology explosion accompanied advances in artificial intelligence and algorithms as machine capabilities gathered momentum until the challenges associated with natural reproduction were also ‘outsourced’ forever. AI replaced human capital in the medical sector and throughout the supply chain and AI biomarkers along with other new wave inventions rescued the overburdened healthcare sectors from its former years as a reactive, expensive burden into a proactive cost-effective realm. AI replaced most of the diagnosis and data management side of medical practice and data gathering and processing was put to excellent use as a pivotal factor reducing healthcare costs and promoting vitality and longevity. In the early 21st century billions of dollars poured into the incubators and startups in the biotechnology sector provided a huge return on investment proving to have been worth every cent. In a short space of time public areas, workspaces and homes were kitted out with self-service medical pods to use anytime anywhere to monitor, diagnose and issue corrective measures.
The decades of leaps in Epigenetic research and development in the field of cancer, autoimmune disease, mental disorders and diabetes found their cures and the cruelest of conditions were tackled one by one, as the dexterous technicians and microbial clinicians eradicated the issues upstream whilst continuing to improve the quality of life for those already alive. It was an undeniable fact that Crispr – ‘Clustered Regularly-Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats’ opened the floodgates to an artificially improved race¹⁰ catapulted into the future on the ‘fast-track’ to vitality and its germline systematically rebooted. What began by treating cancers, blood disorders, diabetes, and inherited blindness improved its cut and splice down to a fine art as ‘prime editing’ cured more and more autoimmunity diseases and infections. Immune cells were packaged in ‘off the shelve’ versions suitable for everyone and anyone with the result that treatments were fast, effective and cost efficient. Curing the world was streamlined into a fluid process faster than anyone could have imagined.
A generation later the world was transformed allowing the editors to reach their final objective of healthy humans. In a relatively short timeframe good health and vitality was the norm after channeling concentrated expertise into homo-perfectus. Children were conceived in clinics using eggs and sperm made from cells taken from parental skin and the DNA was cleansed right from the get-go designed according to preference. Once implanted in the hosts womb typically the mother, the infants grew like natural ones until soon after both gestation and delivery were ‘outsourced’ to ultra-efficient birth pods.
Ageing was programmed into natural DNA at the start of evolution and it was the common fate of every organism without exception in the natural world. However, the 21st century genetic breakthroughs exposed the irrepressible biological process along with its origins providing a golden opportunity to intervene. The life- extension scientists focused on tissue rejuvenation, stem cells, regenerative medicine, molecular repair, gene therapy, microbial techniques, pharmaceuticals and xenotransplantation’s in order to eradicate the natural boundaries and preserve youthful vitality. Stem cells were coaxed into replicas for organs called ‘organoids’ harvested from the patient’s cells to avoid rejection by the immune system. Eventually even pain could be edited out and chronic suffering was no longer a daily burden for an unfortunate segment with untreatable, life shattering pain. When the first edits erased pain it instantaneously released the inflicted from short- and long-term hell and the incredulously thankful patients wept with relief as their lives were returned. It was immeasurably fortunate that even chronic pain could be cured by the all-embracing new technology.
Ironically nature was increasingly respected as the ultimate life force whilst partially superseded by new technology; it was the ultimate creator and destroyer with the opposite agenda to that of the disease-nuking technicians. The natural world guaranteed that every organism aged irrespective of lifespan condemning its creations across an almost infinite array of creatures. Some were cursed by an ultra-short window of existence, only a paltry twenty-four hours for the short-changed mayflies’ others aged at a more leisurely pace as in the case of certain breeds of tortoise capable of reaching beyond one hundred and eighty years. It had always been a fact of life and natures capricious intention that organisms; microbes, vegetation, animals, humans and their forerunners deteriorated over time and perished in due course and there were no exceptions to this fundamental rule of thumb. Since the beginning of life on the planet organisms evolved with precise instructions to expire at some point in their life cycle from disease, fate or a combination of factors. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) was susceptible to wear and tear, chemical pollutants in the environment along with radiation and the copying, dividing, miscoding errors, which led to disease and mileage were written into the cell commands without exception. Nature was a proficient, definite and precise programmer and even granted one remarkable exception to the inevitability of ‘expiry’ for the biologically immortal jellyfish species Turritopsis dohrnii. Its cellular development via ‘transdifferentiation’¹¹ inspired stem cell research to find a technique to renew damaged or dead tissues in humans. This peculiar jellyfish could revert to polyp state giving it unique status in the natural kingdom.
Apart from this exception the natural universal mandate was gradual increases in the auto-damage process in cells until they died off at some stage in order to pass the baton to a new generation to repeat the process all over again. However, once the bioscientists cast their spell and the usual inflammatory diseases no longer plagued the septuagenarians and octogenarians or anyone for that matter the mortality averages rose to over one hundred years, increasing decade on decade as techniques improved. Good health was proactively combined with a nutritiously balanced diet to promote wellness. The ability to edit DNA transformed the natural lifecycle and once the incredible results were tangible it was impossible to prevent the tide of change from happening until ultimately the once elusive ‘elixir’ became part of our essence in our cellular structure. TERT¹² genes protected the DNA from wear and tear by encoding a protein that helped build caps at the ends of DNA molecules called telomeres, which were rather similar to the plastic tips at the ends of shoelaces. The telomeres prevented the DNA from ‘fraying’ as they did whenever the cell divided stopping them from getting shorter and shorter.
Armed with this magnificent ‘weapon of mass rejuvenation’ the Editors were ready, willing and able and they did not stop once to look back over their shoulders. It was the golden opportunity to outwit evolution as well as to package bespoke ‘designer babies’ improving vitality and life quality. Using the fundamental building blocks from stem cells the worn out ‘kamikaze’ and detrimental cells were purged, as they cultivated new tissues and organs to prevent the vicious ravishes of time. It was fortunate that cerebral capacity also increased for a number of reasons as the entire anatomy: skin, organs and bones remained ‘fresh’ for at least one hundred years. Nature was sent to the bench for a permanent ‘time-out’ as the exacting technicians continued to transform the world. Liberation from excruciating and debilitating conditions such as cancer, arthritis, strokes, Alzheimer’s and a plethora of other malicious afflictions in this astonishing era was an unprecedented milestone and even that was a gross understatement. In so many senses it was the very dawn of ‘existence’ for the resulting lineage known as ‘neo-humanity’.
At the outset the new regulatory authorities monitored, and controlled individuals, organizations and associations in the medical sector and were lobbied in vain in an effort to prevent the unparalleled tides of change from happening. Not surprisingly continuing with research and development, increasing the number of clinical trials and deploying the transformative treatments was a no brainer! What logic could there be in trying to preserve cruel, malicious and fatal diseases or to prolong suffering in any shape or form or to tolerate ageing – the ultimate disease? The all- encompassing tangible results spoke for themselves and they were breathtaking. In the process the amateurs or “Bio-hackers” served a useful purpose contributing to the lessons learned tampering and tweaking their own DNA simply because they could with quick fixes like increasing muscle mass and strength, or metabolic rates and the colour of their eyes in a bid to take control of the once impossible dream. They drove a wave of advancement hot on the trails of the professionals in black market ‘garage experiments’, which were fast, cheap and initially impossible to monitor, control or regulate. Street demand rose over night with people in a fever pitch to get their hands-on self-improvements rather like former drug addicts looking for their next fix. It was a revolution like no other and self- experimentation was at the forefront demanding progress irrespective of the consequences, and with experiments came risk and often less than desirable results. It was raw and elementary to begin with until the perfected database was established, and public access rights were earned the hard way.
In the early days the editors focused on quick wins improving cerebral capacity, lowering the risk of preventable diseases, making 20/20 vision the default and as the food chain was re-engineered it eventually supplied highly nutritious food exclusively. A repeat of former food industry disasters such as synthetic wheat, refined sugar and processed food combined with inactivity the root cause of many a disease, the obesity epidemic and lots of anguish not to mention its impact on the increasing carbon footprint. Digesting invisible toxins, chemical additives and preservatives and a plague of ‘killer’ foods systematically ‘poisoned’ generations until it stopped. In parallel ‘the happiness factor’ was a critical breakthrough fighting depression and the suicide rate with an immediate cure. Within minutes of inhaling ketamine, the depressed were released from the clutches of psychological torture. Esketamine was a pharmaceutical miracle and a balm for the increasingly depressed population feeling the effects of ‘modern life’ and over population amongst other things. The suicide rate dropped dramatically, and the despair from mental torture was removed from the list of problematic issues.
In the early AD 2020’s it took a while to convince that being in a position to improve biology was not the same proposition as Eugenics; historically a grim practice championed for the negative purpose of racial supremacy. By complete contrast this new sector did not discriminate against race, gender, political, cultural or religious beliefs; the movement was ‘inclusive’ driven by sheer determination to help people stay healthy for longer no matter who they were. In some respects, similar to the invention of penicillin, organ transplants or the flu jab; however, this time round the healing was delivered in a comprehensive broad stroke. Within a relatively short-time frame natural viviparous reproduction was completely redundant, superfluous in terms of biology, as well as the time and effort it required to carry a baby in the womb and moreover unsophisticated, painful and genetically naïve. The entire natural reproductive process was totally precarious compared to synthetic engineering; natural conception was a lottery with too many losers and room for error whether structural, functional, developmental or a combination of factors. The new generation was educated about natural caprices and studied the reckless primary processes which formerly dictated sexual reproduction. As the editing process ramped up it was logic to design embryos engineered according to the improved healthy template.
The AI sector also delivered on its promise as the increasingly robust vital population were less occupied with mundane issues like work, death or taxes. Dependable ultra-efficient new breeds of automation and machines spread through the supply chain as vast production, manufacturing and service facilities sprung up overnight across the planet and in orbit. Nanofabrication or machines which could produce anything, and everything changed the economic, political, social and cultural establishment almost overnight. The pace of change was unstoppable by AD 2070 nobody worried about the humdrum issues, which formerly dictated daily routine. All that mattered was the pursuit of continued momentum whilst counting their considerable blessings. Cyber-citizenship replaced geographic jurisdictions and boarder restrictions vanished; as changing domicile was possible in the blink of an eye and the pressure to conform to a subset of geographic, social or cultural limitations melted away. Global business was transformed by Virtual Avatars and Virtual Robots available 24/7 to attend meetings or conferences via virtual or onsite representation. It also helped correct the carbon footprint and efficiency levels rose as people no longer faced the stress of long flights and jet lag. Everything you required to transact and interact in any meeting anywhere was available from the comfort of your armchair making the world accessible and available like never before.
Progress was literally a mind-expanding experience fostering ever decreasing extremism and more fluid integration across former geographic, social and cultural boundaries. The world became the ‘size of a pea’ comparatively speaking; traversing from West to East, North to South and across endless permutations possible in less than one hour due to new wave transportations systems including the Hyperloop and hypersonic aviation at Mach 5.0 and above. At the same time the volume of commercial and leisure flights to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and beyond increased exponentially.
Jenna Morton was one of the initial designer babies manufactured synthetically from human skin by the savvy Neonatologists and after nine months the robust infant was removed from her birth pod without any tears. By her tenth birthday her sights were set on a future in space exploration, Jenna’s formative years were dedicated to learning as much as possible about the cosmos and everything else, she absorbed information like a sponge and relished the thought that her life would be healthy and fulfilling. After her sixteenth birthday she commenced training at the space academy where she was pushed beyond her limits systematically toughened up to the challenges of life in space. It was blatantly obvious that Jenna had won the genetic lottery and her razor-sharp mind gave her every possible advantage. Her upbeat personality and competitive drive combined with the ability to rationally analyze and excel in demanding scenarios consistently impressing her peers and instructors as she demonstrated a high IQ/EQ quotient paired with a resilient athletic physique. Jenna’s sporty glow, intelligent green eyes, brunette hair and well-proportioned features showcased by olive skin were the cherry on top; for Jenna nothing was more important than becoming a licensed astronaut so she could go and explore space.
From a cerebral, emotional and physical perspective Jenna was living proof of the ascendency of medical science and the authorities adopted the greater share of her DNA profile as the ‘golden standard’ for successive generations. A tweaked version of the profile was perfected to compile males since the code was infallible. The editors were acutely aware of the challenges of space travel on organics and correspondingly adapted a new breed of embryos like Jenna’s batch, equipped to better withstand the rigors of space. The genetic and STEM¹³ sectors advanced exponentially continuing to glean invaluable lessons from every space mission no matter how successful or insignificant, investing time and money wisely in a range of critical experiments including cultivating human organ tissues in space and analyzing the impact of gravity etc. in laboratories on the ISS¹⁴ and other spacecraft accumulating invaluable experience and knowledge about space and its impact on living organisms.
Her guardians’ initial reservations evaporated when they were presented with their perfect infant and the anxiety and sleepless nights throughout the decision-making process were instantaneously forgot. Looking back, they were grateful that the selection process they participated in to determine Jenna’s DNA characteristics was done with an astonishing degree of diligence by the team at the pharmaceutical incubator. Jenna was amongst the first batch of one hundred zygotes and even before her birth her future already looked incandescent. From the very outset it was abundantly clear how gifted their daughter was; she could out walk, and out maneuver anything in her path and by eighteen months absorbing new words and concepts without batting an eyelid. Jenna’s young mind processed every minute detail from her environment and interaction with others. Her peers and teachers admired her, as she was the smartest and tallest in her first year at school and by the age of seven already an accomplished pianist playing her first memorized rendition of Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque. Her guardians supported her in every way as she continued to expand her repertoire at an astonishing pace. Her capacity for learning and a forthright nature made her popular and they were proud to have the privilege of raising her. As Jenna approached her teens, she commanded everyone’s attention before she even opened her mouth to speak as her sense of inner peace shone outwardly.
In what appeared to be the blink of an eye she graduated with honors and Commander Morton and her proficient crew was scheduled on their debut mission to Europa. The obligatory robots would conduct the excavation and submersion of a subterranean ocean habitat, similar to those already inhabited by millions across the globe. Once installed the organic astronauts hoped to reside for a whole year under the ocean continuing with the main focus of their mission namely the search for biosignatures and microbial life. Jenna’s crew underwent an intensive 12-month simulation sharing a small base in Antarctica in order to prepare for the most inhospitable conditions imaginable on Europa. However, unlike in the Antarctica the kicker was that on Europa lethal radiation would fry them alive if they stepped outside of the protective ice layer or their radiation- proof entry and exit shaft. Like all destinations in the Cosmos, Europa was no more hospitable nor welcoming than the next, but it could potentially provide more answers to familiar questions and that was sufficient inspiration for the sacrifice, and they were all acutely aware there would be many hurdles to overcome.
Jenna felt privileged whenever she thought of the challenges faced by her antecedents and grateful that the decades of compounded Epigenetic research and development in the field of cancer, autoimmune disease, mental disorders and diabetes amongst other successes had cured each of the dreadful diseases. Jenna was conscious of the fact that her generation was the start of the new world and she took great pleasure in the knowledge that growing old was not going to be a painful process like it often was in former times. Destination Europa was a stroke of luck and a rite of passage after all why should she limit herself to a terrestrial life when the realms of the cosmos lay at her feet, she was itching to begin the hunt for life on Jupiter’s icy moon.
⁶ Bioscientists – combination of genetics, gene editing, stem cells, and immunology
⁷ Cellular senescence – when bad things happen to good cells like ageing and cancer and other sickness
⁸ Senolytics – targets cellular senescence, a process in which damaged cells, rather than dying, persist and become toxic to cells around them
⁹ iPSC – the technique used to reverse cells back to embryonic stage and reverse aging in adults
¹⁰ Crispr – interference technique to alter the germ line in humans and organism.
¹¹ Transdifferentiation - a process where one mature somatic cell transforms into another mature somatic cell without undergoing an intermediate pluripotent state or progenitor cell type.
¹² TERT - Telomerase Reverse Transcriptase is a Protein Coding gene
¹³ STEM sectors – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
¹⁴ ISS – International Space Stations