November 26, 2010
Aubrey de Grey Versus David Brin On Rejuvenation

At a site called I Look Forward To Aubrey de Grey offers a more optimistic view on the rate of advance for rejuvenation therapies.

I think we have a 50% chance of achieving medicine capable of getting people to 200 in the decade 2030-2040. Presuming we do indeed do that, the actual achievement of 200 will probably be in the decade 2140-2150 - it will be someone who was about 85-90 at the time that the relevant therapies were developed.

Aubrey's view of the 2030-2040 decade as being pivotal sounds plausible to me just because of all the activity in tissue engineering, with replacement trachea and bladders grown for humans for example. The future of replacement parts is no longer the distant science fiction future but, rather, the "most of us will live to see this" future.

By contrast, science fiction writer David Brin (whose StarTide Rising and Uplift War I recommend) sees the problems with rejuvenation as much harder to solve.

All advances to date have involved allowing ever-greater percentages of humanity to hit the "wall" at age 100, and maybe coast a few years beyond. Getting beyond that will require either;
1) THOROUGH nanotechnology, applied down at the INTRA-cellular level, or
2) genetic recoding to enhance repair capabilities in new ways (good news for our great grandchildren, maybe, or
3) gradual replacement of failing parts and systems with prosthetics, or 4) uploading.

I think Brin's placing too much emphasis on the hardest problems and missing out on the lower hanging fruit. In particular, for much of the body we will be able replace cells and organs. So the need to get into cells to do intra-cellular repair is avoided, or at least delayed.

But Brin is correct on one point: The need for intra-cellular repair of brain cells. The hardest part of rejuvenation is brain repair. But even in the brain there's quite a lot of potential for cell therapies and immune therapies. Aging brains need replacement cells for their vasculature. They also need immune cells that will go in and remove the extra-cellular junk. I do not believe either of those types of treatment require nanotechnology. They might buy our brains enough time for the nanotech to be developed.

Since I see brain repair as the toughest problem my biggest question about the feasibility of rejuvenation revolves around when and what we will be able to do for aged neurons in situ. Since the brain is so much harder to rejuvenate will we have rejuvenated bodies but senile minds? How much time can we buy our neurons with gene therapies or by giving them newer support cells? (e.g. new glial cells and new vascular cells)

For those of you not familiar with Aubrey de Grey watch a talk Aubrey gave on rejuvenation in the summer of 2009.

Also see Aubrey's interview with Stephen Colbert and my post about his book Ending Aging.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 November 26 05:44 PM  Aging Debate


Comments
Matthew said at November 26, 2010 7:55 PM:

neat that gives me about a 30 to 40 year margin, which to me seems about right. I think he is off by about 50 years, so if I don't get hit by a bus I should live to be around 250. I have a lot to look forward too. Surely by then we will have AI that kicks ass and telescopes the size of manhattan built in outerspace that can find intelligent life.

I've been dabbling in the skeptiko community lately (see skeptiko.com). It's the deepak chopra, remote viewing, psi crowd. What they and the transhumans have in common is a lack of skepticism for their chosen interest.

I wish I knew why people change their minds because it isn't simply evidence.

http://www.hplusmagazine.com/editors-blog/precognition-real-cornell-university-lab-releases-powerful-new-evidence-human-mind-can-

I am a fan of mind being inherent to the universe. By fan I don't mean a convinced former skeptic. I merely find it interesting while recognizing that it could be entirely wrong. For example, ben cites as evidence the commonality of Psi as a reason to believe in psi. Well, we all know how wrong that is and yet it seems to be a matter of reference class.

Okay, sorry wrong topic. Onwards to 200 year lifespans! (while conveniently doing nothing!)

Mthson said at November 26, 2010 10:39 PM:

Is it possible we'll be able to take a shortcut with brain rejuvenation by replacing only small sections at a time, and then giving the rest of the brain time to train the new tissue?

Even if we end up using a brain rejuvenation method for a while that involves significant data loss, that'd generally be preferable to complete, final data loss (death).

Matthew, what do you mean by "while conveniently doing nothing"? I hope you're living up to your potential for advancing humankind, because others of us are working 60-80 hour weeks.

kurt9 said at November 26, 2010 11:18 PM:

Someone ought to ask David Brin if he is signed up for cryonic suspension.

Brett Bellmore said at November 27, 2010 5:47 AM:

I've thought about brain rejuvenation by cell replacement, and while I'd be willing to suffer the gradual, rolling amnesia, (If I could forget my first marriage, I'd be very happy!) I see a serious obstacle in the long range interconnections within the brain. Replacing those cells is going to be seriously difficult. New support cells? Not so difficult. But the nerve cells have a very high metabolic rate, so they really NEED working mitochondria, even if they've got good support cells. Unless we can engineer new support cells to extend processes into the existing neurons, and provide metabolic support... Which we might be able to do.

Brain rejuvenation is the hardest task, but it's also the most essential.

morpheus said at November 27, 2010 8:18 AM:

i see Randall u took my advice

this is a top notch post

much better then co2 elite crap or save the tigers gay stuff

congrats:)

Jehu said at November 27, 2010 10:24 AM:

The brain has tons of redundancy and pretty effective self-repair capability in terms of the data it holds---it strikes me as fairly likely that 'you' would persist quite nicely if little bits of it were replaced gradually.

I actually have a hard time conceiving of any futures other than ones containing a hard, brutal crash OR actuarial escape velocity. Seems to me that the center either holds, or it doesn't, and if it does hold, I see no insurmountable obstacles to such an escape, particularly when one considers that incremental extensions give you more time to make the larger later ones.

PacRim Jim said at November 27, 2010 12:29 PM:

The topic of rejuvenation will provide myriad opportunities for scoundrels and mountebanks of every persuasion.
Perhaps an education program should be contemplated.
People on the edge of the abyss will listen to anybody promising rescue.

Theo Richel said at November 27, 2010 1:44 PM:

Randall, time is limited and so is money, wat is your position?. Currently we spend billions on climate and other environment related research and hardly anything on aging. Ultimately this climate research is meant to save our lives, but I think that Aubrey de Grey and other aging researchers have a much bigger chance to relieve all out sufferingt. I do not have exact figures, but I'd favor a shift of 95% of the money that now goes into climate/environment research to aging research. It is clear from the present situation that one cant have both at the same time, so how would you divide that money?

Randall Parker said at November 27, 2010 2:32 PM:

Theo,

If Caltech prof Dave Rutledge is right then the amount of CO2 released from burning coal is going to be way way less than IPCC assumes (PDF a new paper of his coming out). Add in Peak Oil and the amount of CO2 heading for the atmosphere is way less than most climate scientists expect. I expect Peak Oil is basically going to rip the guts out of our economy and is a far greater threat to biomedical research than climate research or climate change.

Climate research: I rather doubt we spend all that much. My guess is we spend way more on energy research. This makes sense since Peak Oil and Peak Coal are going to cause a several year economic contraction that is going to slow anti-aging research. Also, we spend a few tens of billions per year on medical research. I doubt climate science is even a tenth that amount.

But the amount of money going into R&D is small in any case compared to the US economy or other economies. In the developed countries Research and development as a percentage of GDP ranges around 2-3% with the US at around 2.7% (if memory serves).

morpheus,

You light the way. Your sagacity is unparalleled.

Theo Richel said at November 27, 2010 3:25 PM:

We have so far spend 79 billion (http://joannenova.com.au/2009/07/massive-climate-funding-exposed/ ) on climate research, and while you are right that we spend a lot of money on medical research, I was referring to the fight against aging, which is an entirely different subject - and funding for that is a minor fraction of the total of medical research. See Aubrey de Grey struggling for his money. I was at the Kopenhagen Conference on Climate, it was huge, can you mention the equivalent about aging? And which one is the best life-saver?

I could say a lot about energy (see: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/17/business/energy-environment/17FUEL.html?_r=2&ref=natural-gas&pagewanted=all ), but that is not what's debated here, i wanted to know how you weigh the importance of aging vs climate. But you evade that and that makes your pleas for aging research rather empty.

Nick G said at November 27, 2010 4:18 PM:

Caloric restriction can, very very quickly, increase the lifespans of simpler creatures by large percentages.
They are healthier in every way, including brain health. There may a simple biochemical signal that can mimic CR.

Now, humans may have exhausted most of the potential for simple life extension already. But, the fact that similar animals can have very different lifespans (rats - 3 years, bats - 50!) suggests to me that this there is no reason to think this is the case.

I strongly suspect that there are relatively simple interventions that will provide the kind of life extension that will allow us to live long enough to get to a kind of lifespan singularity, where medicine improves faster than we age.

I just hope we see them soon...

Randall Parker said at November 27, 2010 6:41 PM:

Theo,

Two points:

1) Trying to shift spending around within total medical research spending sounds more politically feasible than trying to take money from climate research to give to aging research. Look at it this way: The people who need to be convinced that rejuve is something we ought to go for are the people with the strongest interest in medical research or the potentially strongest interest in rejuve therapies.

2) Our yearly burn rate on climate research is, again, low as compared to the tens of billions per year spent on medical research or the 17+% spent on medical treatments in the whole US economy. Here's an indication that Earth science spending is not all that big:

Edward Weiler, the agency's associate administrator for science, said that NASA's Earth Science budget will get a $2.4 billion, or 62 percent, increase through 2015. By that point, the program will have launched as many as 10 new missions, collecting information about ocean temperatures, ice coverage, ozone depletion and the central question of how much carbon dioxide is being released through human activities.

That includes a lot of research that would get done independent of warming fears. The increase if annualized is about a half billion per year. Sounds like all told the US government might be spending in the neighborhood of about $2 billion per year on climate research. Compare these numbers to the total US federal budget.

xd said at November 27, 2010 7:24 PM:

IF the cardiovascular system is rejuvenated, there is a possibility that the rest of the systems may be rejuvenated as a by-product.

There was a study a few years ago where the bloodstreams of a young and old rat were joined together.

The result was that the chemicals in the blood of the younger rat rejuvenated the tissues of the older rat.

Randall Parker said at November 27, 2010 9:00 PM:

xd,

You are referring to work done by Thomas Rando and Irina Conboy. See my posts here and here and here and here.

The effect was to up-regulate stem cells. That will certainly help. But that does not fix the insides of cells.

The problem with that up-regulation is that the down-regulation that happens with age with compounds in the blood is probably an anti-cancer measure. Rejuvenation becomes a lot easier to do if we can cure cancer.

BioBob said at November 28, 2010 2:08 AM:

I am going to agree with Dr David Brin, who is, by the way, also a PhD Scientist. as well as an author. Longevity of humans can accurately be described by a normal (Gaussian) distribution or curve.

For all of our work in the fields of medicine, physiology, genetics, etc to date, all we have done is shifted the shape of the curve, rather than it's upper limits. To me this is a strong indication that barring a significant breakthrough of a massive nature, the human organism simply is not likely to increase it's maximum functional age limit (somewhere in the range of 100 - 125), since that has been the upper end of the outliers on the curve for all time. I am no expert on longevity, but I see no real increase in the number of people surviving into this kind of age despite all efforts to date.

In biology, all organisms seem to have a "effective lifespan" integral to their evolutionary history; good luck trying to second guess millions of years of evolutionary design, with this sort of tinkering. My suggestion: try a non-biological solution since if humans could naturally live for multiple-hundreds of years, some would already do so.


Brett Bellmore said at November 28, 2010 11:19 AM:

A significant breakthrough is needed, that's true. You've correctly identified why we shouldn't expect to achieve significantly longer lifespans by dietary modification, or any easy intervention.

OTOH, the SENS approach of identifying, and rectifying, weak points in our biology, is promising. Our current lifespan isn't dictated by basic physics, it's dictated by evolutionary tradeoffs made during a period when the average lifespan due to accidents was in the 20-30 year range. We simply haven't been ABLE to live longer, long enough to have evolved longer lifespans. That doesn't mean such lifespans aren't possible.

Tom Brosz said at November 28, 2010 11:48 AM:

Any form of rejuvenation that involves essentially creating a new personality doesn't really count in my book. That includes brain repairs that eliminate old memories.

"Uploading" gets a lot of play in SF and elsewhere. But basically, I see this as just creating a copy of yourself that goes on to have a good time while you get left behind in your old, tired body in the chair at the upload clinic. Not my idea of immortality, unless you consider your personality so important to the world that it deserves to survive your own death. Maybe replacing yourself with You-II won't make a difference to your friends and family, but it will sure make a difference to YOU.

Disintegrating the old body after an upload is cheating.

ic said at November 28, 2010 12:26 PM:

After completing his multimillion dollars worth of regenerative treatment and was to enjoy another 100 years, he went out for a celebration with his trophy sixth wife and careened his car down the cliff.

Porkov said at November 28, 2010 12:43 PM:

What will the young pups of 50-60 have to say about me re-entering the workforce at 90? Believe me, I plan to keep up my chops; I WILL be ready to eat their lunch.

Randall Parker said at November 28, 2010 12:55 PM:

Theo,

I disagree with the optimistic NY Times take on future fuel availability.

Evade: You set up a strawman of climate research versus rejuvenation research. The US federal budget is $3.3+ trillion per year and the US GDP is $14+ trillion per year. Asking if I'm ready to cut $2 billion per year (less than a tenth of a percent of US federal spending) in climate research spending to fund rejuvenation research really is just tying two separate subjects together to make a political point, and the point is not about rejuvenation research. One could pull all the US troops out of Iraq and save a far larger figure. Or one could cut welfare spending or cut back on medical treatments of those with just weeks to live. I can easily come up with tens of billions of US federal budget cuts.

Eric A. Blair said at November 28, 2010 1:04 PM:

Oh wonderful. Now George Soros can have another hundred years to push his sociopathic principles on the politicians and media. I double that Obamacare will pay for rejuvenation for anyone who isn't in the ruling class.

friendlywarning said at November 28, 2010 1:08 PM:

Rejuvenation treatments cannot come on the market in the United States because the FDA does not consider aging to be a disease, so it will not approve any treatment for it. There is thus no financial incentive for any company to cure aging. If anyone developed the therapy, the FDA would shut them down. If you really want to extend your life, I suggest you start fighting as hard as possible to get the FDA abolished. With the Tea Party, all things are possible. If you don't, you will die soon. It is as simple as that. Time to stop teen dreaming and start acting like adults and taking responsibility for the political world we live in.

Theo Richel said at November 28, 2010 2:05 PM:

Randall, I think one can indeed make a point that all government spending costs lives. RL Keeney has done some remarkable work on that, but I have not gone that far and only want to compare the things that are intended to save human lives. Large parts of the environmental legislation and research are meant to do that(climate, pesticides, radiation) and considering the science, the risks involved and the performance of the (largely unnecessary) measures I think a dollar spent on biogerontology is much better spent then a dollar spend on the other subjects. And the current situation is the opposite. Even without counting the real money, the Copenhagen Conference of 2009 proves enough. I think we need a Copenhagen conference on aging.

One last example: the Dutch government (where I live) has a policy that medical acts are justified if they cost no more then 80.000 Euro's per year of a saved life. However the measures that are taken to prevent us from dying of dioxin or radiation or asbestos kost billions per year saved. If you spend your money on small risks there is no more money for the big risks.


TTT said at November 28, 2010 2:24 PM:

I certainly agree that there is a serious WALL in the 100-110 range. Of all the people who cross 100, less than 0.1% cross 110. And none cross 115.

That said, I would be quite happy to reach 105 or so, and call it a life.

kenh said at November 28, 2010 3:59 PM:

"
That said, I would be quite happy to reach 105 or so, and call it a life.
"

I'll call you when you're 104 and remind you of what you said.

Randall Parker said at November 28, 2010 6:18 PM:

Eric A. Blair,

Better start saving for your own rejuvenation treatments. I am.

friendlywarning,

Last I checked the world is full of countries with different regulatory regimes, including countries where there's little in the way of drug approval agencies and prescription drugs are sold over the counter. Heck, we can drive to a country where lots more drugs are sold over the counter.

TTT,

The WALL is just lots of parts wearing out. Replace the parts and the body will keep working.

BTW, over time I've noticed a number of commenters at a number of sites identifying themselves as being 70, 71, 72. I've yet to see someone identify themself as being in in their 80s. I suspect mental function drops off so much that there are few 80+ year olds surfing the internet. That's sad.

TTT said at November 28, 2010 7:21 PM:

I'll call you when you're 104 and remind you of what you said.

Do that. You would have to be alive at ~120 by then, which I would wager you will not be :).

But 100-105 is not bad.

TTT said at November 28, 2010 7:24 PM:

The WALL is just lots of parts wearing out. Replace the parts and the body will keep working.

Except that that is at the intra-cellular level, which is what Brin is saying. Anything less than intra-cellular anti-aging means 100 will be the WALL.

I can afford to wait until the 2080-90s to see if the WALL is overcome. Others, like Ray Kurzweil, cannot (ever wonder why he insists that the singularity is in 2045, when he is conveniently 97?).

Mthson said at November 28, 2010 8:08 PM:

Re TTT:"I can afford to wait until the 2080-90s to see if the WALL is overcome."

That might be true, unless we (or our spouse or children) get surprise brain cancer or any other fatal disorder that can strike without warning. The safest bet regardless of current age seems to be to advocate medical research as if it were urgent (it is).

Lou Pagnucco said at November 28, 2010 9:36 PM:

Some recent related articles on reversing some signs of aging, perhaps of interest -

"Harvard scientists reverse the ageing process in mice – now for humans"
Harvard scientists were surprised that they saw a dramatic reversal, not just a slowing down, of the ageing in mice. Now they believe they might be able to regenerate human organs
http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/nov/28/scientists-reverse-ageing-mice-humans

"Telomerase reactivation reverses tissue degeneration in aged telomerase-deficient mice"
'Telomerase reactivation in such late generation TERT-ER mice extends telomeres, reduces DNA damage signalling and associated cellular checkpoint responses, allows resumption of proliferation in quiescent cultures, and eliminates degenerative phenotypes across multiple organs including testes, spleens and intestines. Notably, somatic telomerase reactivation reversed neurodegeneration'
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature09603.html

"Telomerase reverses ageing process"
http://www.nature.com/news/2010/101128/full/news.2010.635.html

"Linking functional decline of telomeres, mitochondria and stem cells during ageing"
http://www.jenage.de/assets/library/pdfs/sahin_et_al-NATURE-03_2010.pdf


Randall Parker said at November 28, 2010 10:56 PM:

TTT,

Again, most parts can be replaced. So aside from the central nervous system I do not see a need for nanotech.

There are synergies in a body. Make the rest of the body younger (including brain vasculature) with cell therapies and organ replacements and I would expect the brain would last longer. It'd be much better nourished. Also, replacement stem cells for the brain would help with brain repair for neurons and glial cells that die.

BioBob said at November 29, 2010 12:46 AM:

Randall, it all sounds great but there is one gigantic fly in the ointment: no matter what we have done or are able to do to this point, none of it has changed the upper tail of the longevity normal curve - NONE. What it has done is let life expectancy rise from 40s and 50s to 70s and 80s and more who make it into their 90s. That's all great. But none of it has increased the numbers of people who live past 110 - 125.

Surely with multiple billions of humans, the probabilities of reaching and surpassing such age limits (say 120+) would have been reached - they have NOT. That speaks volumes to me.

TTT said at November 29, 2010 12:58 AM:

Randall,

Perhaps, but it is also possible that you, like Kurzweil, is letting what you want very badly cloud your judgment about its probability.

I will change my opinion about the wall, if I see a higher percentage of people who cross 100 also cross 110.

To be more specific, when the US has over 10,000 people older than 110, then we can say progress in pushing the wall back has happened. My current understanding is that there are 60,000 people older then 100, but just a few dozen older than 110. Quite a falloff.

10,000 Americans older than 110 = real progress against the wall. Let's hope it happens.


TTT said at November 29, 2010 1:02 AM:

Surely with multiple billions of humans, the probabilities of reaching and surpassing such age limits (say 120+) would have been reached - they have NOT. That speaks volumes to me.

Biobob,

Well said. I agree. Bill Gates can have 12X the net worth of Donald Trump despite Trump being 'among the richest men in the world', but we don't see anyone living 40 years longer than George Burns (i.e. 140), for example.

The WALL does exist...

Until 10,000 Americans older than age 110 are alive, I don't think we can claim the wall has been dented.

TTT said at November 29, 2010 1:10 AM:

Age is like height - no one can be more than 50-60% above the median.

A person living to be 115 happens as often as a person growing to 8'. (i.e. 5-10 out of a billion)

A person living to be 125 happens as often as a person growing to 9' (i.e. never).

Brett Bellmore said at November 29, 2010 3:41 AM:

I believe Alan Harrington discussed this phenomenon: Extending the human lifespan has to be impossible. Simply inadmissible. It's a psychological defense mechanism. If it's impossible, you don't have to regret that it doesn't get done, or that if it does, it's your children or grand children who will benefit, not you. It's a great defense mechanism, right up to the point where something COULD be done, and then it keeps that something from getting done.

In truth, the fact that nobody lives to 140 today is proof that unaltered human biology has a 'wall'. It's not proof the 'wall' can't be moved by technological intervention. At most it tells us that multiple mechanisms are involved, and that's no surprise at this point. And that the interventions won't be as simple as a diet and exercise program.

Human biology is like the proverbial one horse shay. It has multiple weak points which all break down on about the same schedule. And this is to be expected: Evolution has put those weak points two or three sigma out from the average life expectancy during most of our evolutionary history, and any one of those weak points that occurred earlier would have been fixed by evolution, but only just enough to push them back to that 'wall'. Out to the point where they were of no evolutionary significance, because effectively 'everybody' would be dead of other causes by then, anyway.

Now we've got a life expectancy, aside from those weak points in our biology, which would be several times further out than the 'wall', and we're evolving longer lifespans at a furious pace. Fat lot of good that does you, though, when you're here now, not 20,000 years from now, when, without any special technological intervention, people will have evolved lifespans comparable to the tortoise.

But we're engineers, including biological, and what evolution might do over the course of twenty thousand years, we can do in a generation or less. Identify those weak points, and FIX THEM.

BioBob said at November 29, 2010 4:30 AM:

Brett,

I certainly don't say that there is any maximum human lifespan and it certainly would be nice imo to live for decades more. What I do say is that even with all of the advantages of modern medicine, genetics, therapy, transplants, etc, in addition to the huge increase in human population size, the statistical probability of human lifespan past 125 has not changed. Someone is trying to tell you something. If you are hoping for a longer life, look to some non-biological mechanism, perhaps.

morpheus said at November 29, 2010 6:57 AM:

here is a fresh new scientific post
regarding the subject

Partial reversal of aging achieved in mice
http://www.physorg.com/news/2010-11-partial-reversal-aging-mice.html

Brett Bellmore said at November 29, 2010 9:54 AM:

I don't think a non-biological mechanism is needed, though I'd have no objection at all to one. But something outside the range of human variation is certainly required. For instance, the SENS goal of moving the last few mitochondrial genes into the nucleus, where they'd be protected from close up exposure to the production of free radicals inherent in oxidative metabolism. That's a relatively straightforward genetic engineering goal, which would probably pay off in significantly squaring the curve, and some actual movement of that 'wall'. And yet, it's completely outside the range of human genetic variation. There are probably a lot of fixes of that nature we could do.

We have a fundamental advantage over evolution: Evolution is a hill climbing algorithm, while engineers can jump from one local maxima to another, higher one.

BioBob said at November 29, 2010 10:53 AM:

Brett, genetic monsters ? lol -- a whole different can of worms that is. Unless something in the human psyche and pack mentality changes, it's not gonna happen, at least in public. The gene-splicers can't even cut a break on food !

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20101124/sc_afp/germanyfarmfoodindustrybiotechenvironment

Cameron said at November 29, 2010 4:17 PM:

"But we're engineers, including biological, and what evolution might do over the course of twenty thousand years, we can do in a generation or less. Identify those weak points, and FIX THEM."

That is where the real ball game is going to be played. Tissue engineering and cellular therapies are not the only areas experiencing constant advancement. Genomic sequencing((e.g. say negligible senescence organisms) and Synthetic biology are also experiencing stupendous progress.
These things together if advanced enough should be able to provide indefinite biological immortality.

"The gene-splicers can't even cut a break on food !"

Human artificial chromosomes allow for a more controlled means of delivery. In any case at least for cellular therapies and engineered organs, cheap fast sequencing will allow for verification of quality of modifications.

Brett Bellmore said at November 29, 2010 4:35 PM:

By not catching a break on food, I think BioBob is referring to the way the EU is fomenting fear of genetically engineered crops so as to have an excuse to implement barriers to importing American agricultural products. Not technical issues.

Biobob said at November 29, 2010 5:54 PM:

correct, Brett.

GM food products make foaming greens. Genetic engineering in humans, like embryonic stem cell research, makes all kinds of people foam, lol. It could happen, but is unlikely in any western democracy where public pressure can be exerted.

The potential for GM in humans is large - the potential for abuse or efforts gone wrong is even larger. This won't be pretty.

Randall Parker said at November 29, 2010 9:49 PM:

Guys,

In the larger picture Europe's opposition to genetically engineered crops isn't going to matter much. The pragmatic Chinese are much larger in number and the US and Canada will use these crops. Enough exporting and importing countries will use them and buy them that Europe's regulations will leave it increasingly isolated on this subject. The economic advantages of genetic engineering in agriculture are too great for Europe to get much traction with the rest of the world. Hunger people want food. The rising affluent want more meat.

BioBob said at November 29, 2010 11:01 PM:

Randall, that certainly may be the outcome. However, all it would take is one large misstep - say perhaps a continent wide crop failure or a sickening of thousands and the pucker factor on genetic engineering would rise so high that it could well be abandoned as an anathema much like nuclear power is today. We may well need it badly, as we do something like nuclear power but the negative baggage could prevent its use in fact. This could be the case for both gene manipulation in plant crops and in feed animals or even humans. Like I said, the potential for abuse and epic error are quite high.

On the other hand, we have only just begun examination of the natural genetic elaboration resulting from millions of years of evolution. There is absolutely NOTHING new under the sun. If some genetic combination is useful, I guarndamntee you that it already exists or has existed in some geneome if we only looked.

Brett Bellmore said at November 30, 2010 4:15 AM:

"that it could well be abandoned as an anathema much like nuclear power is today."

It's not my first choice, but I could live with genetic engineering being abandoned as an anathema much like nuclear power today. IE, used almost everywhere, heavily adopted in nations many nations. You maybe got a better example of a technology being abandoned than nuclear power? 'Cause, while it's not being properly exploited in most places, it's a heck of a long way from 'abandoned'.

I'm sure the future of genetic engineering will be similar: Suppressed in a few countries which are temporarily wealthy enough to think they can indulge in economic irrationality, but embraced by nations either too poor to think they can get away with being stupid, or just not inclined to be stupid in the first place. Not advancing at the fastest pace conceivable, (With a lot of suffering unavoided as a result.) but pretty fast, none the less.

I think you're exaggerating a bit with that 'nothing', but it's certain that there are a lot of fantastic genetic traits to be found already existing, in other species, that could be incorporated into the human genome. And that's part of my point: Evolution can't do that, we can.

BioBob said at November 30, 2010 9:06 AM:

Brett, i will stick with nothing new.

There hasn't been a single trait that i am aware of introduced via GM that wasn't already present or copied from a preexisting genetic pool. What most humans fail to understand is that they carry thousands of billion year old sequences around with them like some superannuated kleptomaniac hoarder, even if those sequences don't currently express (unless there is a transcription error). Another thing that most humans don't understand is that a billion years of evolution is a fair amount of time for experimentation /sarc. We think a few hundred years is a long time, rofl. A third thing that most humans don't understand is that there are already GM actors at work, introducing all sorts of modifications into organism genotypes and they are quite active and pervasive - we call them viruses.

Cameron said at November 30, 2010 12:48 PM:

The past is not always indicative of the future. Novel nanostructures able to outperform bone in strength are known to exist, yet no known animal possesses them. There are also hints that there exists nanostructures that may outcompete natural muscles. The limits of biology have not been reached by the lifeforms in this planet. Any complex structure not having intermediately useful states in the paths towards its development are unevolvable. That does not mean such structures cannot be designed and introduced, allowing biology to go through paths forbidden to evolution, paths where some of the theoretically optimal molecular machinery and optimal nanostructures, at the limits of physical possibility may lie.

BioBob said at November 30, 2010 11:21 PM:

Yes, yes Cameron. Get back to me when we have gene sequenced an adequate sample of and described the phenotypic expression of all of the known .5 million species [we have made a great start with several thousand under our belt!] and the 1-3 million other unknown species estimated on earth. I suppose we will also need to wait until all those "supreb" nano-discoveries are actually incorporated into viable organisms and turn out to actually be worth a damn, eh ?

We humans have a short-long history of thinking we are better than we actually turn out to be. Actually, I am sometimes amazed that western civilization has lasted 2-3 thousand years without imploding. Here we are barely ~60-80 years after the discovery of antibiotics blithely pissing away their advantages while leaf-cutter ants still are able to successfully use the ones they developed millions of years ago. Makes me go hmmmmm. Any scientist worth a damn knows just how little we actually know compared to how much earth and the universe "shows" us. The usual sequence is we think we are cool and discovered something new but it turns out that some species "already got one" - and has for several million years.

Don't get the wrong idea - tech does things that biology can't - i agree. But we are talking about extending maximal longevity in human biological systems, not rocket science.

Cameron said at December 1, 2010 3:26 AM:

"But we are talking about extending maximal longevity in human biological systems, not rocket science."

Negligible senescence organisms already present possible solutions to keeping up biochemistry running pretty much indefinitely. The fundamental long term problem at the end is corruption of information. Evolution can allow for error correction through competition and selection mechanisms. But it is quite obvious that a sufficiently advanced error correction mechanism for the molecular tape would halt the evolutionary process, so that is very likely unevolvable, but not undesignable.

Brett Bellmore said at December 1, 2010 4:07 AM:

Right, it's a kind of gentic Xeno's paradox: You can't evolve perfect gene correction, because the better the gene correction, the slower evolution proceeds.

I'm convinced that, at some point, we're going to have to do a complete "blank sheet" redesign of human biology. But that will probably have to wait until the next century. In the mean time, enough small fixes could extend human lifespans into the several century range.

But on SENS I will say this: Their "WILT" proposal, Whole-body Interdiction of Lengthening of Telomeres, is nuts. Not nuts in the sense that it couldn't work. Nuts in a different sense. The idea is to disable telomerase in every cell of the body, and then regularly resupply the body with error checked stem cells from outside. This would, theoretically, eliminate cancer. However, it would also guarantee that, if you ever stopped getting the stem cell infusions, you'd die horribly in the space of a few years. Talk about being on the hook to the pharmaceutical companies! I may think they're generally nice folks, but plaster saints they aren't, you really don't want to give them THAT kind of power over you.

Bellmore's first rule of life extension interventions: If you stop the intervention, you should live at least as long as if it had never been done. Not die in a few years as your body falls apart on an accelerated schedule...

Randall Parker said at December 1, 2010 6:51 PM:

Brett,

"WILT" would take a lot longer than a few years to kill you. Presumably the stem cells will start out with long telomeres and therefore be good for a few decades of cell divisions before becoming a problem.

But I expect cancer cures to eventually make WILT irrelevant.

BioBob,

Western Civilization has not lasted a couple thousand years without imploding. The Roman Empire collapsed.

It is certainly possible to create species that out-compete other species. Invasive species already do that in many cases. One could cross assorted species and come up with new mixes of features that'll let them out-compete existing species in various niches. I expect this will happen.

Lou Pagnucco said at December 2, 2010 10:57 AM:

A couple of points -

Long telomeres do appear to delay (at least manifestations of) human aging:

"People with moles age more slowly than others"
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1557094/People-with-moles-age-more-slowly-than-others.html
Excerpt-
'The scientists compared more than 1,800 twins and found that participants with high numbers of moles - more than 100 - had longer telomeres than those with fewer than 25 moles. The difference between the two groups was equivalent to six to seven years of normal ageing estimated by looking at the average rate of telomere length loss per year.'

Maybe, the presence of moles indicates a less vigilant apoptosis program to rid the body of wayward cells - as appears to be the case in naked moles (if my memory is correct.) Maybe, also a few naked mole genes inserted into the human genome would be beneficial - it would be interesting to see if a GM canine (with some of those longevity genes) lived longer.

Then, too, there is evidence that enhancing telomerase expression seems to rejuvenate cultured tissue.

Also, on the issue of evolutionary optimization -
The 12Nov2010 issue of Science has an article "Irremediable Complexity?" which surmises that biology uses "gratuitous complex" Rube-Goldberg approaches is because it optimizes by continuous, circuitous search - so that the old baggage keeps getting carried forward. Hopefully, bioengineering can tunnel through all the superfluous intermediate stuff.

BioBob said at December 2, 2010 12:37 PM:

Randall, you have been seriously misinformed - the WESTERN portion of the Roman Empire collapsed - the EASTERN portion of the Roman Empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire, survived along with a goodly portion of it's cultural and literary works, survived into the early renaissance, and gradually morphed into the modern day Ottoman Empire, all without the loss of ANY continuity. This is how we still continue the Western tradition started in the greater Mid-East.

BioBob said at December 2, 2010 12:52 PM:

Randall, I don't understand what you are trying to get at with your comment about creating species. Humans create species without even trying - ergo bedbugs, body/head/public lice and so on. We have managed to amass an entire menagerie of species which are ALL obligate "humanophiles" and can not survive without us. Invasive species are just another aspect of our homogenization of world habitats and a side effect of our nature.

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