Complex Made Simple

Secrets for longer lifespan, even immortality, may lie in nature

Want to live longer, or forever? Scientists are looking at a few options

A genetic mutation called the E(z) genes leads to increased lifespan in fruit flies by up to 23% The naked mole rat, some of which live for more than 30 years, dwarf the lifespan of other small mammals Computers one day may upload our brains and perpetuate our consciousness and memories

Because the universe must die, there can never be true physical immortality and we will never overcome death, despite the greatest breakthroughs of science and technology.

But you can’t stop humans from trying.

Nature all around us is telling researchers that perhaps more years could be added to human life.

It is only 15 years since the official completion of the Human Genome Project and the publication of the first genome sequence at a cost of over $3 billion. 

Forbes said that understanding of genomics and the interplay between genes and the environment (including lifestyle, nutrition, fitness and microbiome) are revealing the truth about aging.

With the cost of genetic sequencing at $100 per person (compared to $24,000 only a few years ago), decoding our DNA to understand aging is driving many entrepreneurial ambitions.

Inspired by British billionaire Jim Mellon, chairman of anti-aging upstart biotech venture Juvenescence, Sergey Young unveiled a $100 million fund on Monday to catalyze the development of a comprehensive solution to counteract the damaging consequences of aging.

First though, is the question of why are we so prone to dying?

Read more: How millennials’ are naturally leading the wellness journey

What hearts don’t love

Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine say the loss of a single gene, the CMAH gene2-3 million years ago may have resulted in a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease in all humans as a species, while also setting up a further risk for red meat-eating humans.

The findings published July 22, 2019, in PNAS show Atherosclerosis — the clogging of arteries with fatty deposits — is the cause of one-third of deaths worldwide due to cardiovascular disease. There are many known risk factors, including blood cholesterol, physical inactivity, age, hypertension, obesity and smoking, but in roughly 15% of first-time cardiovascular disease events (CVD) due to atherosclerosis, none of these factors applies.

A sweet discovery 

A genetic mutation called the E(z) genes that lead to increased lifespan in fruit flies by up to 23% is bringing scientists closer to understanding how a genetic mutation could hold the key to a longer human lifespan.

Back in 2017, scientists slowed the ageing process in fruit flies and gave them 20% more prolonged life by tweaking the production of a certain protein. It seems fruit flies have a lot to teach us about longevity.

The recent tests showed mutant flies were more resistant to hyperthermia, stress and were also more fertile. Well, maybe that last part, we can without.

Laboratory tests already identified several dozen genes with pro-longevity action and are actively studying the effects of various pharmacological agents, natural compounds, and plant extracts on ageing-related signalling pathways, lifespan and physiological functions. 

Read more: 3D printing offers new healthcare opportunities

Stress that prolongs life 

A newly described form of stress called chromatin architectural defect, or chromatin stress triggers in cells a response that leads to a longer life.

Researchers report in the journal Science Advances that moderate chromatin stress levels set off a stress response in yeast, the tiny laboratory worm C. elegans, and the response promotes longevity. The findings suggest that chromatin stress response and the longevity it mediates may be conserved in other organisms, opening the possibility of new ways to intervene in human ageing and promote longevity.

Life stretching stats with worms, rats  

Research into ageing now focuses on stretches of DNA called telomeres, where adjustments to the telomeres of nematode worms, allowed scientists to increase the lifespan of these creatures tenfold. As for rats, a near-starvation diet stretched their lives considerably but the naked mole rat, some of which live for more than 30 years, dwarf the lifespan of other small mammals. What is their secret to longevity?

Brain freeze

The powerful desire for a longer lifespan creates a ready market for exotic therapies of untested efficacy.

“For example, Ambrosia, a United States start-up founded in 2016, has been offering Silicon Valley executives a transfusion of “young blood”, although the company halted the treatment earlier this year following a warning from US regulators,” said Mail and Guardian.

“Another recent life-extending craze was metformin, a drug intended to treat diabetes, but which some claim can stave off dementia and cancer in people.”

Human-genome analysis by US company 23andMe is looking into human vulnerability to some diseases and Craig Venter, a pioneer in mapping the human genome, aims to analyse the genomes of the thousands of species of bacteria in our gut — an internal ecosystem that may very well be crucial to our health.

Computers one day may upload our brains and perpetuate our consciousness and memories.

Read Microchipping the human body: How far has this tech come, and what are the risks?

“Longevity enthusiasts want their bodies frozen from the moment they die until immortality is possible. Not so long ago, three academics in the United Kingdom signed up with companies in the US to have their dead bodies’ blood replaced with liquid nitrogen,” reported Mail and Guardian.

“One went all-in with the Cryonics Institute, while two took the lower-price option of having a company called Alcor freeze just their heads. The three accept that the chance of resurrection is small, but point out that it would be zero otherwise.”