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Author Topic: Immortal Crocodiles
remigo
Deck the Malls


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I was watching tv last night, (The Panel, Irish snopesters) and one of the panelists told an urban legend - one that I'd never heard! Could it possibly be based in fact, or did he just make it up for the sake of comedy?

quote:

[paraphrase]
Zoos/menageries as we know them today, have only been around about 120-140 years. All the crocodiles that were captured for these first zoos are still alive today in captivity. "Scientists" reckon that the natural life cycle of a crocodile ends only when he is killed by a younger croc, and since the captive crocs are kept safe, there is nothing to kill them. "They" believe that crocodiles may hold the key to the immortality gene.

I tried searching for it, but only brought up Steve Irwin stuff. This was the nearest thing I found...

quote:
Scientists are also investigating ageing in other animals, such as
tortoises and crocodiles, which continue to grow throughout their
lives and also die as a result of injury, disease or starvation rather
than cell deterioration. Rose's research suggests they, too,
possess the immortality genes but are unable to live for ever because of
the rigours of everyday existence.

http://www.homoexcelsior.com/archive/transhuman/msg03286.html

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Major D. Saster
The First USA Noel


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A quick Google of "crocodile+life expectancy" gave this result :

http://www.jaxzoo.org/things/biofacts/NileCrocodile.asp

However, no one seems to really know (the figures go from 25 to more than 100 years). Big reptiles are known for living quite a long time, some turtles and crocs outliving their owners. As for being quasi-immortal, I'd say bunk.

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Hypno Toad
I'll Be Home for After Christmas Sales


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The oldest crocodile repored seems to be a Russan Croc called Kolya:

quote:
In February, 1995, the Associated Press reported that Kolya, a ten-foot crocodile (species unstated), had passed away at Russia's Yekaterinburg Zoo after residing there continuously since 1914. Asserting that records indicated Kolya had arrived as a fully-grown adult, Curator Natalya Bobkovskaya declared the reptile was between 110 and 115 years old at the time of his demise.
Multiple sources give this information but are all a little light on specifics. I'll carry on looking.

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Formally Random Dan

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Dutch Angua
Deck the Malls


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Ok, some biological stuff.
Please feel free to correct mistakes:

When a cell divides, small caps on the end of the chromosomes become smaller. These caps are keeping the dividing chromosomes stable. After a certain amount of dividing, the caps have become too small to keep the chromosome stable, and so the chromosome is unable to do the job. This happens near the end of a life.

If croccodiles were immortal, either the caps don't get smaller with every cell division, or they have something that builds them up again (I think this actually exists, but not sure)

Feel free to correct, my cell biology exam was long ago.

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stalker
Deck the Malls


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quote:
All the crocodiles that were captured for these first zoos are still alive today in captivity.
...

quote:
In February, 1995, the Associated Press reported that Kolya, a ten-foot crocodile (species unstated), had passed away at Russia's Yekaterinburg Zoo after residing there continuously since 1914.
Busted?

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kallrynne
I Saw Three Shipments


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I have heard this before. It's kind of difficult to prove. How do you prove if something will live forever? yes, crocs die in captivity, but what are they actually dying of? Old age, or something else? I am not a biologist so I have no definitive answers to anything, I just have observations. They live alot longer in captivity, and what strikes me is, reptiles keep growing. They don't reach a certain size and then stop. Would this have some link to the "immortality gene" or what Dutch Angua is talking about, something that keeps building up the cells after they divide?
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GenYus
Away in a Manager's Special


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I think the immortality of crocodiles could be disproven by calculation the standard deviation of the ages of crocodiles when they died. If the standard deviation is low, then that is the natural lifespan of a crocodile in captivity. If the standard deviation is high, then either crocodiles have not been in captivity longer than they live or they are immortal.

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forceflow15
I Saw Three Shipments


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quote:
by Dutch Angua

Ok, some biological stuff.
Please feel free to correct mistakes:

When a cell divides, small caps on the end of the chromosomes become smaller. These caps are keeping the dividing chromosomes stable. After a certain amount of dividing, the caps have become too small to keep the chromosome stable, and so the chromosome is unable to do the job. This happens near the end of a life.

This is true. The caps are called telemers. When DNA divides the strand has to unravel. This causes damage to the strand. When it retwines, the DNA is no longer the same molecule. That's where telemers come into play. They take the damage so that the DNA can stay relatively close to the original strand. However, over time the telemer unravels until it is gone. This happens near the end of life for that cell, not necessarily for the entire animal.

In addition, methods of repairing the telemer exist. This would be the process that would make the crocodiles long-lived. However, the process is not perfect and no animal is truly immortal, even if saved from all potential hazards (i.e. lived life in a total clean room, with no bacteria or viruses, and no competition for food from other animals, and no predators). Telemers are a key to long life, just not immortality.

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Forceflow

"There was Joye in the courtroom, but he slipped on a-peel." = Prof. Kutner

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Troodon
It Came Upon a Midnight Clearance


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Obviously immortality is technically possible - life has been continuously going on for more than three billion years without interruptions, so the "spark of life" in each of us is billions of years old. The question is whether it is possible to keep a particualr body alive instead of going through the cycle of large multicellular body->single-celled fertilized egg->new large multicelluar body. I don't think it is, at least not anytime soon, but I also think that very dramatic increases in lifespan will be possible.

Consider a hypothetical animal that does not age. It has a 1 in 30 chance of being killed by predators/diseases/etc. every year. This means that despite never aging, the average such animal will live 30 years and less than 4 animals in 100 will live to be 100 years old. Only about one in a million billion of these animals will live to be 1,000. Then consider a mutation in this animal that automatically kills it when that animal turns 1,000. Such a mutation will have no evolutionary pressure against it because the animals are not living to 1,000 anyway, and so it and other mutations like it will build up. Even a mutation that automatically kills the animal when it turns 100 will be preserved if it gives the animal even some small other advantage because so few mutant animals will live long enough to suffer from its disadvantage. This is what I think is the case in humans: a buildup of genes that were harmless or a even a little helpful in our past but make us die sooner now. By getting rid of them, we will be able to significantly prolong our lives.

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