Can You Freeze Yourself and Come Back to Life?

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James Bedford was the first person to be cryogenically frozen in 1967 in order to cheat death. The process of cryopreservation, as studied by cryobiology, is difficult, as damage can occur when trying to lower the temperature. Despite research into cold-tolerant animals and vitrification techniques, cryonics cannot currently preserve a human body indefinitely and the dream of cryonics is still on ice.



Comprehension Quiz



The Dream of Cryonics

On January 12th, 1967, James Bedford passed away, but he had a plan to cheat death through cryonics. Cryopreservation promised to preserve his body until a theoretical future where humanity could reverse death. However, to revive people in the future, proper preservation in the present is necessary. This requires an understanding of the hurdles of human cryopreservation, which lies in the scientific field of cryobiology.

The Role of Cryobiology

Cryobiology studies the effects of low temperatures on living systems. Lowering an organism’s temperature decreases its cellular function. For instance, human cellular activity stops at temperatures below -130 degrees Celsius. If a human body were brought below that temperature, it could theoretically be preserved indefinitely. However, preserving a body indefinitely is difficult, as damage can occur when trying to lower the temperature. For example, when trying to freeze a single red blood cell, ice crystal formation can cause osmotic shock, which destroys the cell before it reaches -130 degrees. Not all cells are as fragile, though, and animals like cold-tolerant fish and freeze-tolerant frogs have evolved to survive extreme conditions.

Vitrification and Cryoprotectant Agents

Researchers have developed remarkable preservation technologies by studying these adaptations. They are trying to improve cryopreservation technology by using an approach called vitrification, which uses cryoprotectant agents (CPAs) to prevent ice formation. These chemicals allow researchers to store living systems in a glassy state with reduced molecular activity and no damaging ice. Vitrification is ideal for cryonics and would help preserve organs and other tissues for medical procedures. However, vitrification is incredibly difficult to achieve, as CPAs can be toxic in high quantities. Researchers have been able to successfully vitrify and partially recover small structures like blood vessels, heart valves, and corneas. But, vitrifying a whole human being requires rapid cooling that lowers temperatures uniformly throughout the material, which becomes more challenging as the material becomes more complex.

The Challenges of Cryonic Preservation

To date, cryonic preservation techniques only offer false hope to their patients, unable to vitrify complex living material or a whole human being. Cryonics is both unscientific and deeply destructive, irreparably damaging the body’s cells, tissues, and organs. Even if scientists could revive people through cryonic preservation, ethical, legal, and social implications would cast doubts on the technology’s overall benefits. In conclusion, while cryonics may seem like a dream come true, it is currently on ice. Cryobiology provides a fundamental understanding of the effects of low temperatures on living systems, but it has not been able to fully solve the challenges of human cryopreservation. Although researchers have made significant progress in vitrification, cryonic preservation techniques have yet to offer any hope of reversing death.



CryobiologyThe study of the effects of very low temperatures on living organisms. – Cryobiology is the study of how living organisms respond to ultra-low temperatures.
CryopreservationThe preservation of living organisms by freezing them. – Cryopreservation is a successful method of preserving living organisms in a frozen state.
CryonicsThe practice of preserving people at very low temperatures with the intent of restoring them to life in the future. – Cryonics is the practice of preserving people through extreme cold temperatures, with the hope of restoring them to life in the future.
James BedfordThe first person to be cryonically preserved. – James Bedford was the first person to be cryonically preserved, in 1967.
Low TemperaturesRelatively cool temperatures. – Low temperatures are necessary for cryopreservation.
Cellular ActivityThe metabolic and physiological processes that occur in cells. – Cellular activity is important for keeping living organisms alive.
Red Blood CellsCells that contain hemoglobin and transport oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. – Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen and carbon dioxide throughout the body.
WaterA transparent, odorless liquid composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. – Water is the most abundant substance on Earth.
Ice CrystalsSolidified water molecules. – Ice crystals form in nature when temperatures fall below freezing.
Osmotic ShockThe sudden change in osmotic pressure when an organism is exposed to a new environment. – Osmotic shock can occur when a fish is moved from one body of water to another.
Cold-tolerant FishFish that can survive in cold temperatures. – Cold-tolerant fish are able to survive in water temperatures as low as 4°C.
Freeze-tolerant FrogsFrogs that can survive freezing temperatures. – Freeze-tolerant frogs are able to survive the winter by burrowing into the ground and going into a state of hibernation.
Antifreeze ProteinsProteins that prevent ice crystals from forming in the body of a cold-tolerant organism. – Antifreeze proteins are essential for allowing cold-tolerant fish and frogs to survive in freezing temperatures.
VitrificationThe process of turning a liquid into a glass-like solid. – Vitrification is a process used in cryopreservation to turn a liquid into a glass-like solid.
Chemical SolutesChemicals dissolved in a solution. – Chemical solutes are added to the solution used in cryopreservation to prevent ice crystals from forming.
Cryoprotectant AgentsChemical compounds used in cryopreservation to protect cells from damage. – Cryoprotectant agents are used to help protect cells from damage during cryopreservation.
VitrifyTo turn a liquid into a glass-like solid. – Vitrification is the process used to vitrify the liquid used in cryopreservation.
TissuesGroups of cells that work together to perform a specific function. – Tissues are made up of many different types of cells that work together to perform a specific function.
Complex Living MaterialLiving material made of multiple components that interact with each other. – Complex living material, such as cells, tissues, and organs, are made up of many different components that interact with each other.


Discussion Questions

  1. What techniques have scientists developed to help preserve human tissue?
  2. Are there any ethical implications to cryonics?
  3. What challenges do scientists face when attempting to freeze a human body?
  4. What are some of the cryoprotectant agents (CPAs) used in cryobiology?
  5. What are the benefits and drawbacks of vitrification?
  6. What methods do cold-tolerant fish and freeze-tolerant frogs use to survive extreme temperatures?
  7. How could cryonics potentially benefit society in the future?
  8. What potential risks are there in attempting to revive people through cryopreservation?

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