[extropy-chat] (health) risks and benefits along a bell curve ?

Lee Corbin lcorbin at tsoft.com
Sat Mar 18 18:14:59 UTC 2006

Robert writes

> When you are dealing with something like the human body 
> there are lots of examples that can be cited where it is 
> very tolerant of certain  mistreatments up to a point.  
> Beyond that things get bad, in some cases quite rapidly.   
> (Though I *would* be curious if radiation poisoning could 
> be treated aggressively using very creative methods -- 
> large quantity stem cell therapy for example.) 

On a closely related note, I was very impressed with an article
in a recent Scientific American on cosmic ray dangers in space.
(A great exposition of the science and history of the phenomenon.)
Astronauts out of Earth's atmosphere for up to months are okay,
but without extensive shielding, trips to Mars (i.e., space exposure
on the order of a year or more) will be hazardous or fatal.

So I wonder, Do cellular repair mechanisms totally compensate for
the radiation damage done to, say Neil Armstrong when he was in
space for a week or so? (In the ensuing years, perhaps he's no
worse by now than he would have been anyway.) Or is he simply
stuck with a certain amount of permanent damage?

> You have the problem of comparing apples and oranges.  You 
> have ~150 genes alone involved in just DNA repair.  Each 
> individual may have variations (polymorphisms) involved 
> in those genes.  If you have the defective (or slow) 
> variants you are at much higher risk than others...

Good stuff. Thanks, Robert.

> ...So you cannot assume that the bell curve statistics 
> apply to oneself because people showing up early on the 
> distribution curve most likely have genetic susceptibilities.  
> People showing up late (e.g. supercentenarians older than
> 110) probably have relatively speaking "perfect" genomes
> and could generally do things that might be very harmful
> to the "average" person. 

On a related note, I had speculated earlier that certain
diseases have long incubation periods, but was unable to
come up with a good example. Damien Broderick suggests kuru.
I find:

    Kuru is a rare and fatal brain disorder that occurred at epidemic levels
    during the 1950s-60s among the Fore people in the highlands of New Guinea.
    The disease was the result of the practice of ritualistic cannibalism...
    Similar to other the TSEs, kuru had a long incubation period; it was years or
    even decades before an infected person showed symptoms.

Therefore, the OP's hypothesis that fatal afflictions will
be noticed right away in some people has to be amended.


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