February 19, 2008
Immortality may only be a gene-tweak away.
The current average lifespan of a human is around 80 years. The oldest person lived to be 122 years, while an Israeli Arab woman is claiming to be 120. And many gerontologists believe that 125 years is the maximum. But if researchers in California are right, they can possibly extend human life to 1000 YEARS.
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.
One thousand years of life? The idea of centuries-to-an-eon life span in humans may sound wrong to those who study aging, but even aging occurs at different rates in different people, which would explain why some live over one hundred years while others die early (for reasons other than suicide or murder, of course). Longo believes that this is the result of genetic programming:
“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?”
While yeast is a far cry from humans, it is the first step to extending human life as the methods used can be adapted and refined to extend the life of other increasingly complex organisms. By that time, they may know enough about aging to slow the process down to extend life even further, and other advances in stem cells and bionics may allow one to replace their aged, obsolete bodies completely.
As always, stay tuned… This is going to get interesting.