A group of scientists have managed to extend the lifespan of baker’s yeast by ten times, using genetic tweaks and a special diet. They believe that they will be able transfer the same processes into small mammals like mice, and that ultimately this may be a viable pathway for longevity treatments in humans:
Longo’s group next plans to further investigate life span extension in mice and also is studying a human population in Ecuador with mutations analogous to those described in yeast.
“People with two copies of the mutations have very small stature and other defects,” he said. “We are now identifying the relatives with only one copy of the mutation, who are apparently normal. We hope that they will show a reduced incidence of diseases and an extended life span.”
Longo cautioned that, as in the Ecuador case, longevity mutations tend to come with severe growth deficits and other health problems. Finding drugs to extend the human life span without side effects will not be easy, he said.
An easier goal, Longo added, would be to use the knowledge gained about life span “in a fairly limited way, to reprogram disease prevention.”
It’s interesting to see that there inevitable consequences to longevity – everything comes at a price, even in biology. But what about the social consequences?
Sure, if I could even double my lifespan, think of how many more books I’d be able to read, or stories I’d be able to write. But I’d need to work for twice as many years to support myself … and if the majority of people were living twice as long, there’d be some rather serious logistical issues with basic resources.
But then again, maybe that would provide the impetus for us to think more efficiently, and/or escape the gravity well and colonise local space? [Image from Image*After]
One thing’s for certain – if my longevity was increased significantly, I’d have a lot more time for sitting around and speculating wildly on the consequences of things … 😉