May 09, 2003
Why Human Life Extension Will Help The Environment

Biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey argues that if people had longer life expectancies they'd be far more supportive of measures that would improve the environment of the planet Earth 100 years and longer from now. After all, if people are going to be around to deal with the long term consequences of what happens now they are going to be far more likely to care about the environmental consequences of what happens.

Writing in the Usenet group sci.life-extension Aubrey sees life extension as beneficial to the environment.

If you *expect* to live another century or two, you probably *will* act (at least somewhat) to make sure this planet does too.

...

If you want to make sure this planet lives another century or two, your best bet is probably to make people alive today do so too.

I try to make a habit of pointing this out to environmentalists, and especially to environmentalists who focus on overpopulation as a reason to eschew life extension. My mileage varies...

Aubrey also thinks that the public would be far more supportive of the development of life extending therapies if scientists were more willing to discuss just how soon they believe significant life extension therapies could be developed.

I'm saying that even though a healthy proportion of educated/thinking people think as you (and me) about the long-term future of the planet, the same cannot be said for the public at large. Really this is no more than a generalisation of the reason there is such widespread apathy about life extension research: scientists' perpetual refusal to discuss timescales just reinforces the view that no serious breakthrough is likely within the lifetime of anyone presently alive, and with that mindset it is no surprise that the public don't agitate for such research to be expedited.

I am firmly in Aubrey's camp in terms of believing that dramatic extensions of human life are achievable in a time frame that would benefit most of those living today in industrialized countries. The only reason most of us may not end up living long enough to benefit from these therapies is that scientists are not currently asking for the money to make a serious push to develop them.

While many fear that extended life will simply mean extended old age the most promising ways for extended life involve a return of an organism's body to a much more youthful state using "Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence" (SENS).

On August 12th 2001, a small roundtable meeting was held at UCLA, Los Angeles, to discuss a wide range of issues surrounding the possibility that, within a few decades, biotechnology might be developed that would enable us to reverse all the key lifespan-limiting components of human aging. The meeting was a sequel to one held in Oakland in October 2000 entitled "Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence" (SENS), so the UCLA meeting was entitled "SENS 2". Full funding was generously provided by the Maximum Life Foundation (see http://www.maxlife.org/).

The October meeting, SENS 1, gave rise to a highly controversial and provocative article, "Time to Talk SENS: Critiquing the Immutability of Human Aging", which is to be published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences as part of the Proceedings of the 9th Congress of the International Association of Biomedical Gerontology [1]. (More details of that meeting, including a transcript, are online at http://research.mednet.ucla.edu/pmts/sens/index.htm .) The central conclusion of that article was that there is a substantial possibility that, within about ten years, we could take a mouse aged about two years (i.e., with a remaining life expectancy of six months or so) and restore it to sufficiently youthful physiology that it would live a year longer than otherwise.

Part of the problem is that many of the scientists who have skills needed to develop the Methuselah Mouse (mice would effectively serve as testbeds to try out prospective therapies) have a bigger focus on figuring out how things work. What is needed is more of an engineering mindset. With an engineering mindset the focus would not be to wait until every mechanism of aging is figured out in detail. Engineers ask if they have the tools needed to do a job and if they do they start working on a solution. Well, we have the tools needed to start now to develop therapies to reverse aging. What we need is the proper mindset and for money to be allocated to the attempt.

In spite of the lack of an ambitious engineering effort to reverse aging some pieces of the puzzle are being worked on. All the work to develop stem cell therapies is applicable. The same is true for tissue engineering efforts and attempts to grow replacement organs. But there are many other pieces that are not getting a lot of effort devoted to them. For instance, a lot of work needs to be done to develop the means to clear the junk out of cells - particularly post-mitotic cells - that accumulates as cells age. But the effort in this area is still pretty minimal. Also, work should be done to create a mouse that has all its mitochondrial DNA moved to the nucleus. Such a mouse line could be used to check whether putting mitochondrial DNA in a safer location will prevent or delay either a decline in energy output or conversion of some cells into major sources of free radicals or both.

The public needs to begin demanding major research efforts to develop therapies to reverse aging. Absent those demands the development of anti-aging and rejuvenation therapies will take many years longer than is necessary.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 May 09 01:09 AM  Aging Reversal


Comments
Leigh Clayton said at May 9, 2003 12:04 PM:

I agree with the gist of this article, and I would add that in many areas this development is absolutely necessary. There will almost certainly be a very diffucult period of adjustment to this technology, but it is at least possible to hope that this development may lead our species to start behaving in a mature and responsible way in general. It is clear to any student of history that, lacking it, we haven't developed significantly in any behavioral or moral sense over the 5,000 years or so that we can study.

I like to think that, a century from now, we will as a species look back on the insanities of the past with the perspective that they were caused by the absence of adult members of our species. Let us hope that human adulthood begins at only a century or two, so that we have some hope of achieving it in resonable numbers before we lose the opportunity.

As for getting the research supported politically, I suggest an appeal to the pocketbook. Federal governments are quite concerned with paying for pension schemes. There have been a series of reports that the government schemes are insolvent and it is a source of embarassment to them. Here we have a possible solution. If the politicians can be sold on the prospect of the elimination or at least control of aging, then they can surely see that this will at least postpone the payout from their pension schemes.

GEORGIA KOSTAS said at September 21, 2004 7:07 PM:

Hi i'm Georgia Kostas... i read what you wrote i totally agree with it. I would love to live another century or two, it'll be great. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT SO WE CAN!! hahahhaha i'm only kidding, but what yuou wrote up there ^^^ is great. i wish we could live longer lives.
I agree with the gist of this article, and I would add that in many areas this development is absolutely necessary. There will almost certainly be a very diffucult period of adjustment to this technology, but it is at least possible to hope that this development may lead our species to start behaving in a mature and responsible way in general. It is clear to any student of history that, lacking it, we haven't developed significantly in any behavioral or moral sense over the 5,000 years or so that we can study.

I like to think that, a century from now, we will as a species look back on the insanities of the past with the perspective that they were caused by the absence of adult members of our species. Let us hope that human adulthood begins at only a century or two, so that we have some hope of achieving it in resonable numbers before we lose the opportunity.

As for getting the research supported politically, I suggest an appeal to the pocketbook. Federal governments are quite concerned with paying for pension schemes. There have been a series of reports that the government schemes are insolvent and it is a source of embarassment to them. Here we have a possible solution. If the politicians can be sold on the prospect of the elimination or at least control of aging, then they can surely see that this will at least postpone the payout from their pension schemes.

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