I hit 70 this year, and there’s no way this particular avenue of research will mature fast enough to have any impact on my life, but as a science fiction writer I’m fascinated by the idea that future humans may live to twice the age they do now. How that might happen is discussed on the New Atlas website here.
I strongly recommend that you read the entire article, but if you only want the bare bones, keep reading.
Before I talk about the anti-ageing research, you need to know that:
- ageing occurs at the level of each, individual cell [and there are trillions of them]
- as we age, cells sustain damage that eventually leads to the death of the cell,
- there are two kinds of damage that lead to cell death: ‘One path involves the decline of DNA stability, and the other the decline of mitochondria, which produce energy for the cells. Either way, the end result is the same – cellular death.‘
Now for the interesting part. Once a cell ‘chooses’ a path to cell death, it does not deviate from that path. But what if it did? This is where the research comes in. The UC San Diego team:
‘…rewired a central gene regulatory circuit that controls cell aging. Usually it works like a toggle switch, sending a particular cell down a particular path, but in this case the researchers tweaked it to function as a gene oscillator. That triggers a cell to periodically switch from one path to another, slowing down the arrival at the destination of cell death.’ [The highlight is mine].https://newatlas.com/health-wellbeing/genetic-clock-anti-aging-increase-lifespan/
The cells were yeast cells, so about as far from human cells as you can get, but the results were amazing. Cells that zigzagged between the two paths took 82% longer to reach cell death.
Even assuming that the results could be replicated in human cells, the process of altering humans at the cellular level like this would trigger a $hit storm of ethical debate that could last for centuries, so no, this is not going to help anyone alive now. But…the mere fact that a possible mechanism has been found means that it could happen in the future. And that is what science fiction is all about, extrapolating from the now to the future.
I don’t write super hard science fiction, but everything I imagine has to have some basis in reality. It has to be possible, and today I’ve learned that life extension may become possible…in the future. 🙂