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Sometimes when I have irrational fears about death, I picture the alternative: head in a jar in a room that nobody goes into anymore. And then, after that depresses me even further, I think about Richard Nixon’s head in a jar from Futurama, and that usually helps me feel better. But new research shows that if we just put our brain cells in a jar, we don’t even need the head.
For a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the University of Pavia in Italy discovered that brain cells can outlive the bodies they originated in. Let that sink into your brain, which contains cells that can outlive the eyes you’re using to read this, and the hand you’re holding against your cheek in awe.
“We are slowly but continuously prolonging the life of humans,” said neurosurgeon and study co-author Dr. Lorenzo Magrassi. Because neurons, unlike most cells, are fixed in number and do not replenish, you can live to advanced ages and “you are not going to lose your neurons, because your neurons do not have a fixed lifetime.” Me wonder-um about me own neurons.
The experiment consisted of taking brain cells from mice and injecting them into the brains of rat fetuses. They let the rats live long, ratty lives before euthanizing them when they were no longer able to survive. Upon inspecting their brains, the researchers found that not only were the rats’ brains normal, but all of the transplanted mice neurons were still alive when the rat died, which means they could have possibly lived much longer in another species.
All of that is mindblowing enough, but the truly jaw-dropping aspect is that the mice only lived an average of 18 months, while the rats typically lived around three years. Without the confines of a shitty, temporary mouse body, the brain’s neurons continued to thrive. Will these lead to major life extensions where human bodies die but consciousness lives on? Will we be injected into the Internet to “live” among the ones and zeroes? Am I gonna have to worry about Hugo Weaving following me around everywhere, calling me Mr. Venable?