Our Amazing World: DNA Self Repair
by Joe Selzler
Wouldn't it be wonderful if our automobiles could repair their own breakdowns? Wouldn't life be bliss if our house could repair its own blistered and cracked paint? Wouldn't it be a joy if we didn't have to depend on repairmen? Just think of the time we would save, and the money. What would we pay for such an automobile or house? Here's another wonderful thought: What if our bodies could repair themselves? What if they did it automatically so that we didn't even need to think it about it? Would we live forever? What would we give to have such bodies? Probably just about anything. Is such a thing possible?
Well, believe it or not, NASA is working on just such an idea. They are looking for a way to solve one of the most daunting problems of space travel to Mars. When astronauts leave Earth and fly to Mars they will be subjected to very lethal radiation. It will cause mutations to their DNA that will likely give them cancer. So they must be protected in some way in order to survive the space journey. One approach NASA is considering for protection of the astronauts is to help their body's systemsrepair the damage done to their DNA so that cancerous cells will not form.
The fact is our bodies have the ability to repair themselves. Right now, as you sit and read this article, your body is carrying out millions of repair jobs. You are completely unaware of it and never think about it. This repair takes place in our cells -- in the DNA. As we mature our cells are dividing to help our bodies grow or to replace cells that are worn out. It's a constant process that will not cease until we die. As cells divide one of the basic processes that take place is the replication of the DNA from the original cell into the new cell. That is, when your cell divides it makes a copy of its DNA and gives it to the new cell. The new cell then has a copy of the original blueprint to follow.
Sadly, the copying process of DNA is not always clean and crisp. Due to many different causes our cells' DNA can be damaged. It is estimated that this damage occurs at a rate of 1,000 to 1,000,000 molecular lesions per cell per day.1 Lets compare DNA replication to the photocopying of a document. If the original document has a mistake or some print that is somewhat unclear or smudged, the photocopy will have it as well. In fact the copy will usually be much worse than the original. But our body, and indeed every other organism on our planet, has the ability to repair this DNA damage before it can affect the cell or any copy cells. Fortunately, our cells have special mechanisms that detect DNA damage and apply special enzymes to the affected area, which can deal with almost every form of damage -- sort of like sending in the repairmen.
I know what you're thinking. I'm thinking the same thing. "If my body has the ability to repair itself, then why do I have this or that wrong with me?" Unfortunately for us our cells cannot correct every form of damage. For various reasons, mainly depending on the type of damage and the extent of the damage, there are some forms of damage our body's cells cannot fix. Perhaps if our bodies could fix everything perfectly we could live forever. But the inability of our cells to correct every form of DNA damage leads to cancers, diseases, and poorly functioning organs.
An Incredible Little Organism
Researchers have discovered an incredible little organism, called Halobacterium, that is so efficient at self-repair that NASA is studying it for a way to help their astronauts. This organism, a microbe, is found in extremely salty waters, such as the Dead Sea, where very little animal life can survive. This creature has been found to survive in more than just extremely salty water. Researchers exposed it to lethal UV radiation that would kill most other organisms, including man, and they also exposed it to a space-like vacuum. In both cases it was able to survive and return to normal activity within hours of being removed from the hostile environment.
Researchers at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle studied the results of tests, which bombarded the microbe with radiation, and made a startling discovery. Halobacterium always keeps a certain amount of repair enzymes on hand, so when an error from radiation occurs, this stash of enzymes can quickly administer "first aid" to the DNA. This gives the microbe precious time to increase production of other repair enzymes that continue the repair job.2 Tests show that Halobacterium is able to do the same thing after exposure to a vacuum. They repair all of the damage done to their DNA and then go on living a normal life.
Researchers are intrigued by this microbe and can only speculate about how it got this incredibly efficient ability to repair itself. But consider another, more intriguing question: could humans once have had the same efficient system of DNA repair? Because of the current emphasis on evolution most people assume that our present physical condition is at a higher level than that of our predecessors. What I mean is, we would develop simple systems before more advanced systems like the self-repair that Halobacterium exhibits. So according to the evolutionary model of human development we could not have had this better self-repair system in the past. Is there some way to test whether this evolutionary thinking is correct? The fossil record of humans should indicate whether we once lived longer and therefore may have possessed a better self-repair system. However, the fossil record of humans is incomplete and inconclusive.3 We could look at the historical record from the past to see if humans once lived to a greater age. This would not be conclusive proof that we had better self-repair mechanisms, but it would be an indication that it was at least possible. Is there such an historical record of humans living to a greater age? Yes, there is!
Long Live the Patriarchs
The Old Testament of the Bible tells the story of the early years of our world. Modern thought is sceptical of the first chapters of Genesis in particular and it often scoffs at the stories contained on its pages. Genesis gives great ages for those it describes as the earliest men -- in hundreds of years. For example, Genesis gives the age of Adam as 930 years, Seth as 912 years, and the oldest man, Methuselah, as 969 years. Modern critics use all sorts of convoluted explanations in an attempt to make these great ages agree with modern longevity. Although some of the explanations have a little credibility, many ask more questions than they answer. However, could it be that Halobacterium is a glimpse into what our world was once like? In Earth's history could a complex organism, such as man, repair any damage to their DNA and therefore survive for many more years than we do now, even hundreds of years? And are the first chapters of the Book of Genesis a record of it? If that is the case, what has happened? Why is it that most creatures cannot repair themselves so efficiently today?
The Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:20-21, "for the creation was subjected to futility because creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay "4 And again he says in Romans 5:12, "Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned "5 The inference of these words is that our world was once perfect, without death, but at some point it suffered a great catastrophe. This catastrophe was the sin and downfall of man. The intriguing thing about this little microbe called Halobacterium is that our Creator may have protected it and kept it in its original state as a loving sign to us of the height from which we have fallen and of our need to get back to a state of being right with Him.
1. DNA Repair, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia,http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DNA_repair
2. Secrets of a Salty Survivor, A microbe that grows in the Dead Sea is teaching scientists about the art of DNA repair. http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2004/10sep_radmicrobe.htm
3. See Dr Jack Cuozzo, Buried Alive, (Master Books Inc. 1998) p. 201-219 See also Marvin L. Lubenow, Bones of Contention: A Creationist Assessment of the Human Fossils
4. The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, The National Council of Churches, Copyright 1971