Long lived flies

Tom James @ 15-07-2009

flyA company called Genescient is developing a method for finding genes that affect human longevity using the power of the gene:

Genescient has identified over 100 gene networks (∆’s) that are altered in long lived strains of Drosophila melanogaster and that are also linked to longevity and age-related diseases in humans.

Genescient has sophisticated software that cross links gene function in Drosophila with possible human therapeutics for age-related diseases. Drosophila is an excellent model system of aging and age-related disease that has many genetic pathways that are highly conserved in humans. Therefore, therapeutic substances that act on genetic pathways in Drosophila often work similarly in humans.

It is truly exciting to live in this era when increasing human longevity is a serious area of research.

[via Next Big Future][image from AmpamukA on flickr]

Achieving longevity

Tom James @ 08-07-2009

moai_profileThere always seems to be some intriguing news on progress in extending lifespans, or achieving what Aubrey De Grey calls engineered negligible senescence. From Physorg we have news that a compound called rapamycin, first discovered on Easter Island, can increase the lifespans of laboratory mice:

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and two collaborating centers reported that the Easter Island compound – called “rapamycin” after the island’s Polynesian name, Rapa Nui – extended the expected lifespan of middle-aged mice by 28 percent to 38 percent. In human terms, this would be greater than the predicted increase in extra years of life if cancer and heart disease were both cured and prevented.

Protein folding in certain species of bats has been found to lead to an increase in their lifespans:

Asish and colleagues made their discovery by extracting proteins from the livers of two long-lived bat species (Tadarida brasiliensis and Myotis velifer) and young adult mice and exposed them to chemicals known to cause protein misfolding. After examining the proteins, the scientists found that the bat proteins exhibited less damage than those of the mice, indicating that bats have a mechanism for maintaining proper structure under extreme stress.

And finally the curious case of Brooke Greenberg: who is the size of an infant, with the mental capacity of a toddler, but turned 16 in January:

In a recent paper for the journal “Mechanisms of Ageing and Development,” Walker and his co-authors, who include Pakula and All Children’s Hospital (St. Petersburg, Fla.) geneticist Maxine Sutcliffe chronicled a baffling range of inconsistencies in Brooke’s aging process. She still has baby teeth at 16, for instance. And her bone age is estimated to be more like 10 years old.

“There’ve been very minimal changes in Brooke’s brain,” Walker said. “Various parts of her body, rather than all being at the same stage, seem to be disconnected.”

A substantial increase in human lifespans would be a huge, world-changing, medical and technological achievement, but could well lead to many social problems. An excellent exploration of the effects of longevity is Bruce Sterling‘s sublime Holy Fire.

[from Physorg and abcnews][image from anoldent on flickr]

Enzyme linked to longevity

Tom James @ 24-06-2009

enzyme_WWP-1Researchers have discovered a key enzyme – WWP-1 – that forms part of the process by which caloric restriction leads to longer lifespans in roundworms:

“The only other known factor regulating longevity in response to diet restriction operates at the very end of the signaling cascade,” said Howard Hughes Medical Investigator and senior author Andrew Dillin, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory. “These two enzymes are further up the ladder, bringing us closer to the receptor that receives the signal for throwing the switch to promote a healthy lifespan.”

Identifying the receptor may allow researchers to design drugs that mimic the signal and could lead to new treatments for age-related diseases. This could enable us to reap the health benefits of calorie restriction without adhering to extreme diets in which the satisfying feel of a full stomach is strictly off limits.

The kind of medicine described is definitely near the top of my plausible future technologies that may emerge in my lifetime.

[at Physorg][image from Physorg]

Upsides to the downturn – work less, die later

Paul Raven @ 28-04-2009

Chinese card playersPeriods of economic recession are bound to affect your health negatively, right? Well, not according to Christopher Ruhm, economics professor, whose research suggests that health actually improves in recessions:

In studies over the past 10 years, Ruhm has consistently found death rates decline during recessions and rise when the economy expands. If unemployment rises 1 percent, he estimates the death rate will fall by about half a percent.

“I tracked things like unemployment and mortality and found that they were almost a mirror image of each other,” Ruhm said.

Other researchers have found evidence of improved health during economic downturns in Cuba, Germany, Japan and Spain. Think of it as a silver lining — and perhaps a measure of how much our unhealthy lifestyles and workaholic tendencies can get the best of us during boom times.


Some experts remain skeptical, in part because of overwhelming evidence that people who lose jobs suffer poor health because of it. Depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, and anti-social behavior become significantly more likely after a person gets laid off.

As with so many articles of this type, there’s actually no conclusive proof either way. The causality of changes in the death rates is going to be affected by a multitude of interdependent factors, of which the state of the economy is just one (albeit a fairly significant and influential one). [via MetaFilter; image by SocTech]

That said, there’s a nugget of appealing logic at the core of Ruhm’s research. How much does the amount we work (and what we get paid for that work) really compensate us for the loss of what might be a somewhat spartan but more leisurely lifestyle? If the link was found to be explicit, what trappings of your current life would you be willing to sacrifice in exchange for a happier, healthier life? Or is this just another rehashing of Walden Pond for the modern age, a desperate grab for a silver lining in a cloudy sky?

Dispatches from the Long Now

Tom Marcinko @ 14-11-2008

Some cool items from the Long Now Foundation:

Since we hope to build the space for the 10,000 Year Clock underground, for the last 10 years I have been collecting references and images of the great, ambitious, and or inspiring underground spaces and stonework of the world (in some cases they are also lessons of what not to do).

The pictures more than reward a click.

And if this project seems more than a little monkish, well, a wine seems appropriate:

Long Now’s eponymous red wine by the Pelissero winery was recently reviewed by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate. … The labels are printed with archival inks on acid free paper and the corks are flame marked “Long Now”.

[Photo: Laughing Squid]

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