LICHEN, ELIXIRS AND GUINEA PIGS

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Immortality, eternal life, has been a preoccupation with people since history began and the search for the fountain of youth or an elixir of life is the subject of myth and legend. In the 19th century, respected scientist Charles Edouard Brown-Sequard, injected himself with a rejuvenating elixir prepared from the testicles of guinea pigs, which, the papers said, made “old men as frisky as the friskiest young boys”.

I’ve always had an interest in the resilience of nature and the incredible ability of plants to survive and adapt to the most inhospitable conditions on earth. For a while I was fascinated by lichen – a unique organism, a combination of fungus and algae, so common in our environment that we don’t even notice it most of the time, growing on almost all surfaces from walls and pavements to trees and fences. This fascination led me, at around the same time as the Wilko interview, to read John Wyndham’s Trouble With Lichen. The novel tells the story of the discovery of a lichen with life-extending properties, kept secret for many years by its discoverers who recognised the revolutionary nature of their discovery and its shattering implications. The potential effects of greatly extended life expectancy on society and individuals, from personal relationships (til death us do part… or fixed term contracts?) to the potential for a higher level of human wisdom acquired through super-longevity are discussed in some detail in the novel, sowing the seeds for my own questions to form.