October 12, 2004

What Would Radical Longevity Mean?

Technology Review reports that MIT Professor Leonard Guarente may have found the genetic factor that allows mice undergoing ‘caloric restriction’ to live up to 30% longer. It’s long been known that cutting down food intake by about 1/3 can extend the lifespan of mammals by up to 50%. Professor Guarente has found that manipulating a single gene — the SIRT1 gene — can produce longer mice lives without caloric restriction. What’s more, all mammals — including humans — have a similar gene.

A 30% longer healthy life — another 25-30 years, say — is intriguing, and is on the cusp of being worldchanging. As Alex has noted in the past, a population that regularly lives to (and beyond) the age of 100 forces us to confront questions about work, relationships, family and our society in general. But living to 100, even 140, may be just the tip of the iceberg. What happens when we figure out a way to live much longer lives? Read on for an exploration of this question.