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If a tree can live for thousands of years, and humans only live for about 80 to maybe 100 years, surely the trees are doing something we have done wrong. Is it possible to combine a plant with a human and cut off the growth problem which may solve immortality? Have scientists tried to combine animal cells with plant cells?
Question Date: 2014-07-09
Answer 1:

Plants live a long time because they are constantly creating new cells and letting older cells die off. That's why some trees lose their leaves every year or sometimes a branch falls off because of disease etc. We unfortunately can't lose pieces of ourselves as they get old and regrow them. Humans are composed of animal cells which have a different set of constraints. We are very mobile and don't require constant access to water and nutrients. Plants have roots to constantly be in touch with water and nutrients. Plants can't eat a burrito and go for a run while we can. There are some genes in plants that can be transferred into animals but very rarely and often unsuccessfully as we have very different sets of genes than plants.


Answer 2:

In a word, no.

First off, trees vary a lot in how long they can live. Cherry and apple trees live for 40-70 years or so, i.e. similar to or less than humans. Oaks live for hundreds of years. Only a few types of pines, redwoods, ginkgos, and a rare few others can live for thousands of years.

The way that plants can have this is by having slower growth and by having tissues that completely regenerate the plant's DNA every time a cell divides. Animals (including humans) don't have that; each of our cells loses a bit of its DNA when it divides. There are animal cells that don't lose their DNA this way and divide uncontrollably - this causes the disease we call cancer. Plants don't get cancer because they don't have vital organs; a dead leaf or branch on a tree just falls off the tree, so a cancer on a tree would just kill the limb that it's on and not harm the rest of the tree. Animals have hearts and brains and things that can't be lost like that. These organs also wear out, which is another reason why animals grow old, while plants just make new organs because none of their organs are quite as vital.



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