T Nation

Who Wants to Live Forever?

In the 21st century, will scientists reach the Holy Grail - will they discover the fountain of youth? Will we live forever?

Scientists are now close to understanding the biological mechanisms that make us age and make us die. A few decades ago, no-one thought we could add years to life. The maximum life-span possible for humans was believed to be a hundred or so - and all because of an immutable genetic clock.

But recently a series of startling discoveries has forced scientists to rethink their theories on ageing. They have already found some of the genes involved in delaying the ageing process in animals. Tinkering with them, geneticists have created races of super-organisms - fruit flies, for instance, that can live double their natural life-span and that die healthy and vigorous.

Other laboratories have bred mice that can spontaneously regenerate parts of their bodies, constantly repairing the damage that is part of the ageing process. Controversially, some scientists are confident that their results can be extended to future generations of humans.

Through studying the rare condition of Progeria, which seems to dramatically accelerate the ageing process in children so that they age and die tragically young, scientists have gained further insights into what causes our cells to stop dividing and start to die. And some scientists have been able to briefly reverse the process in cells in a test tube. But the question remains, will this become a feasible treatment in the future?

The most promising advance being tried at the moment comes from researchers who have discovered how to take human stem cells - unique embryonic cells that never age and never die, that have the power to repair or replace any tissue in the human body - and inject this elixir into the brain of stroke victims, partially reversing their brain damage. If this treatment could be adapted, in the future it might reverse many aspects of the ageing process.

Through health care, and modern medicine, we have already made ourselves live longer than evolution dictates. The question is will any of the more extreme and futuristic areas of research give us immortality in the 21st century?

AND

Who wants to live for ever? A scientific breakthrough could mean humans live for hundreds of years
By tweaking our DNA, we could soon survive for hundreds of years â?? if we want to. Steve Connor reports on a breakthrough that has the science world divided

Born in 1875, Jeanne Calment died in 1997 aged 122 years and 164 days. © AP

A genetically engineered organism that lives 10 times longer than normal has been created by scientists in California. It is the greatest extension of longevity yet achieved by researchers investigating the scientific nature of ageing.

If this work could ever be translated into humans, it would mean that we might one day see people living for 800 years. But is this ever going to be a realistic possibility?

Valter Longo is one of the small but influential group of specialists in this area who believes that an 800-year life isn’t just possible, it is inevitable. It was his work at the University of Southern California that led to the creation of a strain of yeast fungus that can live for 10 weeks or more, instead of dying at its usual maximum age of just one week.

By deleting two genes within the yeast’s genome and putting it on a calorie-restricted diet, Longo was able to extend tenfold the lifespan of the same common yeast cells used by bakers and brewers. The study is published later this week in the journal Public Library of Science Genetics.

There is, of course, a huge difference between yeast cells and people, but that hasn’t stopped Longo and his colleagues suggesting that the work is directly relevant to human ageing and longevity. “We’re setting the foundation for reprogramming healthy life. If we can find out how the longevity mechanism works, it can be applied to every cell in every living organism,” Longo says.

“We’re very, very far from making a person live to 800 years of age. I don’t think it’s going to be very complicated to get to 120 and remain healthy, but at a certain point I think it will be possible to get people to live to 800. I don’t think there is an upper limit to the life of any organism.”

For most gerontologists â?? people who study the science of ageing â?? such statements are almost heretical. There is a general view in this field that there is a maximum human lifespan of not more than about 125 years. Jeanne Calment, the oldest documented person, died at the age of 122 years and 164 days. According to the orthodox view of ageing, she was one of the few lucky enough to have reached that maximum, upper limit of human lifespan.

The attitude of most mainstream gerontologists towards the idea that people may one day live for many centuries â?? or even 1,000 years, as one scientific maverick has suggested â?? is best summed up by Robin Holliday, a distinguished British gerontologist, in his recent book Aging: The Paradox of Life. “How is it possible to make these claims?” Holliday asks.

“The first requirement is to ignore the huge literature on ageing research… The second is to ignore the enormous amount of information that has been obtained by the study of human age-associated disease; in other words, to ignore the many well-documented textbooks on human pathology. The third is to propose that in the future, stem-cell technology, and other technologies, will allow vulnerable parts of the body to be replaced and/or repaired. The new ‘bionic’ man will therefore escape from ageing,” Holliday says.

Like many experts on the science of ageing, Holliday is deeply sceptical about the idea that the ageing process can somehow be circumvented, allowing people to extend their lives by decades or even centuries. “The whole [anti-ageing] movement not only becomes science fiction; it is also breathtakingly arrogant,” Holliday says. An immense hinterland of biomedicine suggests that death at a maximum age of about 125 is inevitable, he says.

But that is precisely what Valter Longo is suggesting with his work on the yeast that can live longer than 10 weeks. “We got a tenfold life-span extension, which is, I think, the longest that has ever been achieved in any organism,” he says.

By knocking out two genes, known as RAS2 and SCH9, which promote ageing in yeast and cancer in humans, and putting the microbes on a diet low in calories, Longo achieved the sort of life extension that should in theory be impossible. As Anna McCormick, head of genetics and cell biology at the US National Institute on Aging, remarked: “I would say tenfold is pretty significant.”

Calorie restriction is now a well-established route to extending the lives of many organisms, from yeast and nematode worms to fruit flies and mice. But the jury is still out on whether calorie restriction can extend the life of humans, although a diet rich in calories certainly increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and other life-shortening conditions.

Biologists believe that restricting calories causes many animals to flip into a state normally reserved for near starvation. Instead of spending their precious energy reserves on reproduction, they shut down everything but their basic body maintenance, in preparation for better times ahead when breeding would stand a better chance of success.

This idea fits in with the more general view that animals tend to follow one of two life strategies â?? either one of high fecundity and short lifespan, or one of long lifespan and low reproductive capacity.

Mice, for example, divert much of their limited resources to high reproduction, having several litters of young a year, but they have a short life of just a couple of years. But bats, which are roughly the same size as mice, have just one or at most two offspring a year, and can live for 30 years or more.

Why one species of animal lives longer than another of comparable size, and why some animals appear to age faster and die younger, have been the subject of extensive scrutiny for decades. As bats and mice show, it is possible for genes to extend lifespan â?? so the question is: why do they not do it more often, or even all the time? And the logical extension of this question is: why do we age at all? Why don’t we live for ever?

One of the most convincing answers to this is known as the disposable soma theory. In short, the idea is that genes can extend an organism’s lifespan, but only as a trade-off between the costs and benefits of doing so. It is possible to keep on mending the machinery of the body as it suffers daily wear and tear, but there comes a point when it is no longer worthwhile and the costs become too expensive, much like the point when fixing an increasingly decrepit car gets too much. At this point the body, or “soma”, becomes disposable. By then, though, from the gene’s point of view, it won’t matter â?? as long as it has managed to “escape” this broken-down body and replicated itself inside the younger, fitter bodies of the next generation.

Longo says that the disposable soma theory, invented by Professor Tom Kirkwood of Newcastle University in the late 1970s, is one of the strongest ideas around to explain the nature of ageing.

However, Longo has another theory that is causing a second group of scientists to tear their hair out. He believes that ageing may not simply be a side-effect of the wear and tear of life, but is also a genetically programmed condition designed to rid the population of aged individuals to make way for younger ones.

It is an alluring idea, albeit one thought to have been discredited by the evolutionary biologists George Williams and John Maynard Smith 40 years ago. It is a common assumption among non-scientists that ageing and death occur in order to make way for the next generation, but this suggests that ageing is a genetic programme honed by natural selection. It also assumes that it is an altruistic act brought about for the benefit of the future population.

Evolutionary biologists know that such an idea is based on “group selection” and that mathematically this cannot occur because it will always be undermined by more selfish mutants. Organisms carrying the altruistic genes for premature ageing and death would, for instance, be susceptible to selfish-gene cheats that decide to exploit the situation to their own, and their offspring’s, advantage. They could simply live a bit longer than their peer group and so make sure they are the ones that exploit the available resources left behind by their prematurely dead peers.

But Longo is convinced that his experiments on manipulating the genes of yeast show that ageing is not a mere side-effect of life, but a deliberate, genetically programmed process honed by natural selection. “Basically, it is the first demonstration, to our knowledge, that ageing is programmed and altruistic,” Longo says. “The organisms we have studied die long before they have to in order to provide nutrients for ‘mutants’ generated within their own population. Thus, billions of organisms die early so that a few better-adapted individuals can grow.”

This raises the possibility that the same process happens in humans, and that, as a result, many people are dying earlier than they need to. “Programmed human ageing is just a possibility. We don’t know whether it’s true yet or not. But if ageing is programmed in yeast, and the [metabolic] pathway is very similar, then isn’t it possible that humans also die earlier than they have to?”

Valter Longo says that no one has so far proved him to be wrong on his programmed-death idea. But this may be one heresy too far for the rest of science.

So, which of you would want to live to, let’s say, 300 years old? What are the implications? Women would stay fertile longer, meaning that 80-year-old women having their first child wouldn’t be abnormal. Money would be saved, as it has been said that the cost of caring for a person in the last year of their life is more than the rest of their life put together. What do you guys think?

This would be the worst possible thing for the population at large. People probably wouldn’t wait to start having kids until 80, they would just have more children over a longer period of time. Add that with the fact that everyone lives to be hundreds of years old and the planet would be severely overpopulated within a few generations.

[quote]LankyMofo wrote:
This would be the worst possible thing for the population at large. People probably wouldn’t wait to start having kids until 80, they would just have more children over a longer period of time. Add that with the fact that everyone lives to be hundreds of years old and the planet would be severely overpopulated within a few generations.[/quote]

No by this time, we’ll have cities at the bottom of the ocean and colonizing the moon and mars!!!

I have the biggest fear of death even thinking about it now gives me anxiety. It’s the only thing that gives me the feeling.

For me tho I really starting to accept the fact that we all die and nothing can help us live forever. Why would you want to live forever? Ya, you’ll be 150 years old but living at that age I would image would be extremely difficult. Unless scientist are expecting if you get to be 150 years old that you’ll feel like a 70 year old?

But still we are born and we die, it is the circle of life that will not become a straight ongoing line that won’t stop…

What is the number one reason more and more women are choosing to start families in their 30s and 40s? Life expectancy has increased. At the turn of the last century, life expectancy in the west was about 40-50. Now it’s 70-80. As we continue to increase life expectancy, wouldn’t women naturally delay having kids for longer? If a woman waits until she is 100 years old to have her first child, how will that lead to a population explosion?

If the gap between generations is no longer 20-30 years, but 100-120 years, surely the population growth would slow down? Plus, the biological desire to reproduce in order to keep your genes in the gene pool is less urgent. If you’re going to live to be 300, why not wait until you’re 280 to have kids?

Something to keep in mind is that the same sort of thing was being published more than 30 years ago. (Contrary to the article’s claim that decades ago, no one had conceived of this.)

Not the calorie-restriction part, but in general and with semi-specifics just as much being given.

I recall clearly that there were such articles: I don’t recall for certain the semi-specifics given, but for example inhibiting telomerase may have been one of them.

That’s not to say that nothing can ever be done to do anything, but rather that I expect that rather as the real 2001 was nothing like the 60’s movie 2001 – can’t even get back to the Moon at all, let alone have hotels there and having manned missions to Jupiter, nor was the general “look and feel” anything like as futuristic – the real year 2040 with regard to life extension will probably be nothing like what was anticipated by such articles in 2009.

You know I’m born to lose, and gambling’s for fools,
But that’s the way I like it baby,
I don’t wanna live for ever,
And don’t forget the joker!

I guess that would depend on whether scientists make similar breakthroughs with age related conditions that would negatively impact quality of life.

My paternal grandfather had pretty bad arthritis in his knees, and hands, and that was in his late 60’s. That’s not a trade I’d make if I had to look forward to crippling pain in exchange for another 70 years.

[quote]Badunk wrote:
What is the number one reason more and more women are choosing to start families in their 30s and 40s? Life expectancy has increased. At the turn of the last century, life expectancy in the west was about 40-50. Now it’s 70-80. As we continue to increase life expectancy, wouldn’t women naturally delay having kids for longer? If a woman waits until she is 100 years old to have her first child, how will that lead to a population explosion?

If the gap between generations is no longer 20-30 years, but 100-120 years, surely the population growth would slow down? Plus, the biological desire to reproduce in order to keep your genes in the gene pool is less urgent. If you’re going to live to be 300, why not wait until you’re 280 to have kids?[/quote]

It’s rare that women start having kids in their 40s and not even healthy. Any good doctor will tell you that kids should be had before 35 if possible. After that there are more complications.

And, just for the sake of argument, let’s say people generally still had 3-4 children on average. You can’t see that the population would still be much higher? Imagine if everyone on this planet was alive, along with 200-300 years worth of ancestors. Hello, population problem.


Who wants to live forever?

[quote]LankyMofo wrote:
This would be the worst possible thing for the population at large. People probably wouldn’t wait to start having kids until 80, they would just have more children over a longer period of time. Add that with the fact that everyone lives to be hundreds of years old and the planet would be severely overpopulated within a few generations.[/quote]

No. At first this might happen but then there would be a change:

People will gradually start to understand that life is extremely valuable. The biological necessity to procreate would be canceled but there would still be people who chose to give life and would be much more cautions about it. The population would in fact be reduced as a result of accidental deaths and violence and those children that are born would be valued much more than the children that are born under a “ticking clock”.

People would become more future oriented for themselves rather than some abstract notion of progeny.

They would all of the sudden have a reason to care about those things that cannot be grasped in the short term. There would be a Renaissance of Capitalism.

Eternal life really is the Holy Grail.

edit – adding wiki link, etc.

A lowered time preference will contribute to an overall higher rate of civilization over time. The theory is that since everyone will eventually come to understand that life is no longer short he must become more future oriented – i.e., lower his time preference.

A higher timer preference means that in general one prefers to enjoy consumption in the immediate present rather than in the later future. (Lowering time preference is what must happen if one expects that he will be able to retire, for example.)

See also, Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s “Democracy: The God That Failed” for an explanation of the process of civilization and time preference.

Sure, LIFTICVS, the entirety of human nature, that which we have evolved to over millions of years, our desires and needs, will change, because of a change in perspective.

If that were the case, I imagine there’d be a lot less drug addicts and alcoholics in the world today.

Our current life span has pretty well doubled over the past hundred years and we haven’t seen a damn bit of change in the general state of human nature. Why should we expect another doubling or trebling would make any more difference?

Sounds like yet another utopian fantasy to me.

Kurt Vonnegut has a short story in which everyone in the future could take a pill to live as long as they pleased. They would not age as long as they continued taking the pill. I believe it’s in his collection Welcome to the Monkey House, and it’s certainly worth a read when discussing issues such as the above.

[quote]Cortes wrote:
Sure, LIFTICVS, the entirety of human nature, that which we have evolved to over millions of years, our desires and needs, will change, because of a change in perspective.

If that were the case, I imagine there’d be a lot less drug addicts and alcoholics in the world today.

Our current life span has pretty well doubled over the past hundred years and we haven’t seen a damn bit of change in the general state of human nature. Why should we expect another doubling or trebling would make any more difference?

Sounds like yet another utopian fantasy to me.

Kurt Vonnegut has a short story in which everyone in the future could take a pill to live as long as they pleased. They would not age as long as they continued taking the pill. I believe it’s in his collection Welcome to the Monkey House, and it’s certainly worth a read when discussing issues such as the above.
[/quote]

Why not? Evolution does not tell us to save, for example. Reason does.

Maybe you are one of the unreasonable ones that does not get this.

Kurt Vonnegut does not understand economic laws – he just writes stories for the dimwitted.

[quote]Fuzzyapple wrote:
I have the biggest fear of death even thinking about it now gives me anxiety. It’s the only thing that gives me the feeling.

For me tho I really starting to accept the fact that we all die and nothing can help us live forever. Why would you want to live forever? Ya, you’ll be 150 years old but living at that age I would image would be extremely difficult. Unless scientist are expecting if you get to be 150 years old that you’ll feel like a 70 year old?

But still we are born and we die, it is the circle of life that will not become a straight ongoing line that won’t stop…[/quote]

Ironically death which is probably one of the most natural occurances, is what to me, feels the most unnatural.

I wouldn’t mind living forever. Since I just love the thought of how the society, world view etc. will be in such a “long” time.(For better or worse, I wanna see it all)

[quote]LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
Cortes wrote:
Sure, LIFTICVS, the entirety of human nature, that which we have evolved to over millions of years, our desires and needs, will change, because of a change in perspective.

If that were the case, I imagine there’d be a lot less drug addicts and alcoholics in the world today.

Our current life span has pretty well doubled over the past hundred years and we haven’t seen a damn bit of change in the general state of human nature. Why should we expect another doubling or trebling would make any more difference?

Sounds like yet another utopian fantasy to me.

Kurt Vonnegut has a short story in which everyone in the future could take a pill to live as long as they pleased. They would not age as long as they continued taking the pill. I believe it’s in his collection Welcome to the Monkey House, and it’s certainly worth a read when discussing issues such as the above.

Why not? Evolution does not tell us to save, for example. Reason does.

Maybe you are one of the unreasonable ones that does not get this.

Kurt Vonnegut does not understand economic laws – he just writes stories for the dimwitted.[/quote]

Evolution tells us to fuck and to not die.

Only someone as dimwitted as you would assert that economics could somehow trump those two most powerful animal drives.

[quote]Cortes wrote:
Sure, LIFTICVS, the entirety of human nature, that which we have evolved to over millions of years, our desires and needs, will change, because of a change in perspective.

If that were the case, I imagine there’d be a lot less drug addicts and alcoholics in the world today.

Our current life span has pretty well doubled over the past hundred years and we haven’t seen a damn bit of change in the general state of human nature. Why should we expect another doubling or trebling would make any more difference?

Sounds like yet another utopian fantasy to me.

Kurt Vonnegut has a short story in which everyone in the future could take a pill to live as long as they pleased. They would not age as long as they continued taking the pill. I believe it’s in his collection Welcome to the Monkey House, and it’s certainly worth a read when discussing issues such as the above.
[/quote]

Actually Lifty has a little bit of a point here. Not his whole utopia bit, but look at demographics.

As a country moves from “developing” to “developed” you’ll note a momentary rise in population as birth rates remain standard but infant mortality falls and people live longer. Then, in every developed country this far I believe, birth rates fall and populations start to decrease. This is one of the reasons why Japan is paying couples to have kids and immigration has increased to other 1st world nations. I think in most developed countries total population has increased simply due to immigration. I believe Japan is actually expected to decrease their population. The birth rates are already below the 2.1 necessary to maintain population and their foreign population is only around, what is it? 2% or so?

<<I’m not sure if this is readable as I got three phone calls in the middle of typing this.>>

[quote]asusvenus wrote:
I wouldn’t mind living forever. Since I just love the thought of how the society, world view etc. will be in such a “long” time.(For better or worse, I wanna see it all)
[/quote]

What I was trying to get at if you live at 1,000 years old do you really think you’ll be able to function like what your age is now?

No one knows what it is like to live past 123, oldest person recorded being 122 years Jeanne Calment. So really if you knew that living at 123 years old and beyond would be extremely difficult would you? We don’t know yet what science can do for us if we do indeed get to the state to which we can live past 123 so so far it’s up in the air for me. Don’t get me wrong I want to live as long as I can but I rather live healthy non painful life.

[quote]Fuzzyapple wrote:
asusvenus wrote:
I wouldn’t mind living forever. Since I just love the thought of how the society, world view etc. will be in such a “long” time.(For better or worse, I wanna see it all)

What I was trying to get at if you live at 1,000 years old do you really think you’ll be able to function like what your age is now?

No one knows what it is like to live past 123, oldest person recorded being 122 years Jeanne Calment. So really if you knew that living at 123 years old and beyond would be extremely difficult would you? We don’t know yet what science can do for us if we do indeed get to the state to which we can live past 123 so so far it’s up in the air for me. Don’t get me wrong I want to live as long as I can but I rather live healthy non painful life.
[/quote]

Well, I assume that living forever would mean that the body would have a “surplus” of whatever is in charge of repairing the body, hence the body won’t just deteriate, but stay relatively fresh? How’s a body supposed to live to let’s say 800 years, with a body that matches that of the “old kind of 122 years”. So 800 would be like 123 in terms of the state of the body.

Atleast I would think so.

[quote]Cortes wrote:
LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
Cortes wrote:
Sure, LIFTICVS, the entirety of human nature, that which we have evolved to over millions of years, our desires and needs, will change, because of a change in perspective.

If that were the case, I imagine there’d be a lot less drug addicts and alcoholics in the world today.

Our current life span has pretty well doubled over the past hundred years and we haven’t seen a damn bit of change in the general state of human nature. Why should we expect another doubling or trebling would make any more difference?

Sounds like yet another utopian fantasy to me.

Kurt Vonnegut has a short story in which everyone in the future could take a pill to live as long as they pleased. They would not age as long as they continued taking the pill. I believe it’s in his collection Welcome to the Monkey House, and it’s certainly worth a read when discussing issues such as the above.

Why not? Evolution does not tell us to save, for example. Reason does.

Maybe you are one of the unreasonable ones that does not get this.

Kurt Vonnegut does not understand economic laws – he just writes stories for the dimwitted.

Evolution tells us to fuck and to not die.

Only someone as dimwitted as you would assert that economics could somehow trump those two most powerful animal drives.[/quote]

So then humans are not capable of learning different behavior to suit their environment?

IF you do not understand that humans adapt to their surroundings as they currently exist then you do not even understand what drives evolution. Our biology would change and that is what evolution is.

Scarcity is a reality that humans have been dealing with since time immemorial and is as adapted into our genes as procreation. It is that economic reality which tells us when we should save or when it is okay to consume; when we should have children and when we should wait. No, some people do not understand this and in a world where time loses its scarcity people have to adapt or die. It is that simple.

If human being were to have a longer life span then they would have to change their behavior to suit this reality or else that reality would not last.

A Utopia it is not. Why some people throw out that red herring I do not get…

Maybe they just are not capable of reasoning or understanding written words…

[quote]LIFTICVSMAXIMVS wrote:
Cortes wrote:
Sure, LIFTICVS, the entirety of human nature, that which we have evolved to over millions of years, our desires and needs, will change, because of a change in perspective.

If that were the case, I imagine there’d be a lot less drug addicts and alcoholics in the world today.

Our current life span has pretty well doubled over the past hundred years and we haven’t seen a damn bit of change in the general state of human nature. Why should we expect another doubling or trebling would make any more difference?

Sounds like yet another utopian fantasy to me.

Kurt Vonnegut has a short story in which everyone in the future could take a pill to live as long as they pleased. They would not age as long as they continued taking the pill. I believe it’s in his collection Welcome to the Monkey House, and it’s certainly worth a read when discussing issues such as the above.

Why not? Evolution does not tell us to save, for example. Reason does.

Maybe you are one of the unreasonable ones that does not get this.

Kurt Vonnegut does not understand economic laws – he just writes stories for the dimwitted.[/quote]

Pooteeweet!