A lot of people think there is no chance of celebrating their 100th birthday. But what about their 200th birthday? Inconceivable? Not at all!
Look at some facts: Life expectancy on average was a mere two decades-20 years- a thousand years ago. It leapt to 37 by 1800. Life expectancy is now about 80. Could you add another 120 years to that to make it 200? It is possible.
Increasing life expectancy is big business right now. The very rich don’t want to doe just yet; so people like Larry Ellison (pictured above), Larry Page and Sergey Brin are investing large amounts of their considerable accumulated fortunes into helping them, and us, all live longer.
For those of us who are less than half-way through our lives, assuming we live to 85, we may be planning to retire at 65-70, and then have 15-20 years of retirement before we pop our clogs. But maybe that’s just too pessimistic. And a longer life is now not about being a frail 95 year old in a nursing home. A long, technology-enhanced life could now mean you being fitter and healthier at 150 than you were at 20. Really!
You can seriously increase your chances of living a long life by considering how you can take advantage of upcoming health technologies:
The first thing you have to do is to stay as healthy as possible, with exercise, nutrition and current medicine. Do it now, not tomorrow. Neither the food industry nor the pharmaceutical industry are designed or optimised to benefit life expectancy. They are optimised and designed to deliver the best rewards to shareholders. Choose you food and medicines carefully. Consult your doctor too. He or she should be able to give you advice, or refer you to a nutrition health professional.
The next step is to be ready for DNA reprogramming. Yes, DNA is reprogrammable, just like computers. We can start to programme our bodies away from disease. In the next 10-20 years it is expected that we will be able to re-engineer new body parts. There are literally hundreds of drugs and processes in the pipeline that will modify the course of many of the diseases we face today. Clinical applications now at the cutting edge will be routine in the early 2020s. And cheaper.
Finally be prepared for the Nanotech revolution which will be our ticket to living to 200 years… and beyond. Perhaps immortality. The use of miniscule robots in our bodies to augment our immune system will be technically possible. At the current rate of technological change we are only decades away from achieving these breakthroughs. In essence, this would mean that no disease could kill us.
But accidents and war will still take their toll, unless the human race suddenly changes the way it thinks about its fellow man (and woman). Technology can’t perform miracles!
Well, from all the scientific research that seems to be going on across the globe, it seems the answer to that is… most of us! From naked mole rats to skin stem cell stimulation it seems like longevity, perhaps even immortality is the next barrier for mankind to burst through.
But the quote in the title, wasn’t the full quote. For military historians they may well recognise the full quote, as uttered by Marine Sergeant-Major Daniel Joseph Daly. Highly decorated throughout his fighting career, he is famous, more probably infamous, for having said to have yelled, “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?” to the men in his company prior to charging the Germans during the Battle of Belleau Wood in WW1. So he was encouraging his men to grip their courage and charge an enemy position without regard to the fact that they may lose their lives.
So why do we want to live forever? The scientific and biological research seems to be far ahead of those contemplating the social, economic and environmental consequences of mankind living for far longer, perhaps even for ever. It always makes me laugh when I see in an obituary that someone’s death has been described as “untimely”. There are very few people who would describe a death as “timely”. Even at the end of a long debilitating illness, most people and families would try to cling on to life, for those few extra seconds before departing into the great unknown.
The average life of man has increased over tens of thousands of years. The average life-span now of man in a developed country in around 80 years old (more in Asia- discuss…). But it has taken an awful long time in evolution to get there, from the dawn of the first homo erectus. But is it evolution? And has it really increased by that much?
Using measurements from teeth, skulls and bones that have been found, it seems that many early cavemen actually lived to a ripe old age of 30 or beyond. And the main reason that they failed to live longer than that was not some biological evolutionary stuntedness, but simply their susceptibility to disease, lack of food, heat, and of course predators. Remove those obstacles to longevity and it is likely that early man, on average, could have lived to the age we live to now. So perhaps we have not evolved to live longer, it is just that our circumstances and environment now permit this? No doubt advances in medicine have ensured people don’t die prematurely from accident or disease, but are we actually prolonging man’s innate longevity or merely preventing premature death?
While advances in medicines (a cure for cancer anyone?) are likely to further prevent unnecessary death, it is the actual quest to unlock some secret to longevity and perhaps immortality that intrigues me. Other animals that have been on the planet as long, if not longer, than man, live to approximately the same age as they did tens of thousand of years ago. They have not evolved to live longer, just as I argue that neither has man. So if the biological and scientific tampering with the very heart of man does produce and elixir of longevity, or perhaps even immortality, would the basic DNA of the human not be affected in some way? Is there not some body-clock trigger that would kick in to prevent us living forever? We don’t know, but some commentators argue that just as it is not possible to travel faster than the speed of light, physics and biology will not permit man to cheat death. Is there a “death gene” that simply cannot be by-passed?
Moving on, if we are able to overcome a potential in-built preventative fail-safe mechanism, and live for 200, 300, 400 years or more… How much research has been undertaken and published on the consequences for mankind, and the planet? Back to the quote: Who would want “..to live forever?” on a planet crowded with more and more people who just won’t move on and die and make room for new people. Imagine the conservatism of politics for those who have seen it all before in the hundreds of years they have already lived here? What about food? air? pollution? And what about those of a religious persuasion who consider that man is cheating their God’s will by artificially extending their life beyond three score years and ten? Will they stand idly by as non-believers swell in number?
Then on a personal level, what happens to our brains, our humanity, when we are faced with the prospect of being around the same people, the same friends and family.. forever? How to spring from bed each morning to embrace a new day that you know will never be your last, or anyone else’s? How to motivate oneself to enjoyment, work, study, development and making new relationships… knowing that they stretch away into infinity? My guess is that self-termination; suicides, would become the solution for those unable to appreciate the wonder of living forever.
All food for thought, and probably the kind of thoughts that don’t enter into the minds of scientists hell-bent on “curing” death. Which may not be an illness at all, but the key to man’s continued existence on the planet.
A journey-all journeys- have to have a beginning a middle and an end. Without an end it is not a journey, and there is no purpose in travel. We would become as a painting of soft fruit in a bowl- rotted- still life. And gain a living death by cheating it.
Just as “wearable technology” is becoming “de rigeur”, with cameras in hats, wrist watch internet computers, and sensor/computer glasses with built in sat-nav, be prepared for the next logical step: under-skin technology. Yep, while it may seem like it has come from a Michael Crichton sci-fi story, we will soon all be able to have sensors and micro-chips inside out bodies. For some people it’s here already. Think pacemakers for those with heart disease; the latest models can be scanned by clinicinas to access information about how the assisted heart is performing.
Picture courtesy bc.co.uk
“We are going to see more sensors everywhere. It’s only a matter of time before those migrate under our skin into our bodies,” said Peter Eckersley, the lead technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (photo below).
But with advances in miniaturisation, data collection, storage and access, it’s probably only round the corner when a tiny probe in the body could supply you and your doctors with a mass of information about your body’s functions. Clearly this would have great advantages in helping to treat chronic illnesses. You could go to your own PC or lap-top and allows it to pick up from your body-sensor relevant information about your condition, and send it via the internet to a clinician who can monitor the real-time information and let you know what’s happening and why within your own body. No more having to go in to a hospital and wait to be hooked up to a machine.
The types of information that can be collected from ingested sensors include how the patient’s body reacts to drug regimes, the patient’s dose timing and other physiological responses like heart rate, activity levels and skin temperature. In ten years’ time, some experts are saying that a third of people in developed countries could have sensors inside their bodies, either temporarily or permanently.
However as with any new breakthrough, there could be side effects- not those that affect your health, but those that affect you pocket. Could you imagine a time when health insurance companies refuse to give you beneficial premiums unless you are prepared to have ingested sensors and permit the companies to have access, and perhaps even own, the data about your own body? How would the privacy protectors feel about that?
With new advances in technology it’s important that there are similar advances in responsibility for making sure that the advances are used only for the benefit of mankind, and that by allowing a mini-probe to be sited within you, you have not surrendered your individuality, privacy and soul to others!
Recent research points to organ transplants becoming a thing of the past, and that those missing limbs can throw away their prosthetics. These breakthroughs are firstly that scientists have grown stem cells in a living animal for the first time, and that Sea Squirts might hold the key to limb regeneration. A very significant step, the research on mice could pave the way for damaged human limbs or organs being regrown inside patients. Back in the day (well, very recently actually,) Scientists had taken strides in what is known as regenerative medicine by taking cells out of the body, treating them in the lab and then putting the regenerated cells back.However, this latest study has seen researchers develop pluripotent stem cells in the kidney, stomach, intestine and pancreas of mice.
It’s a Spanish study and the lead authour of the article in the publication Nature, Maria Abad, said:
‘Our stem cells also survive outside of mice, in a culture, so we can also manipulate them in a laboratory. This change of direction in development has never been observed in nature.’
Prof Chris Mason, of University College London, called the research the
‘beginning of limb regeneration’. ‘The ultimate goal is regrow an arm or a limb but it is very early on in that route. But it is very significant and could have a massive impact on cell therapies. For instance, being able to treat cells within the body would reduce the costs of cell treatment significantly.’
We are certainly not there yet. What you’re getting with one hand nature seems to be taking back with the other: The technique in its present form has caused some of the mice to develop cancer-like tumours.
Turning to aquatic allies, the closest relative we humans have in the vast panoply of invertebrate species that blanket the earth is a tiny, unassuming marine set of animals called Sea Squirts or Tunicates. Get a load of this; they are able to regenerate their damaged tissue from their blood vessels alone.
Scientists believe that this odd characteristic may hold the genetic secrets that might eventually allow humans to regrow a lost arm, or accept a heart from someone else without danger of rejection. Up till now it’s been seen largely as a pest because it can foul up beaches, boats, and kill crabs, oysters and many other species of sea-life. It thrives in polluted harbours.
It is believed to have been the first invertebrate to have a vasculature heart system, similar to that in humans, with blood cells traveling through blood vessels. But astonishingly, it can regrow everything just with its blood vessels.
Ayelet Voskoboynik of Stanford University’s Stem Cell Institute and an international team of scientists have just sequenced the genome of one species of this Sea Squirt; Botryllus schlosseri. The hope is that once scientists understand how the genes operate in the animal, they will be able to come up with new treatments for a wide range of human diseases. The researchers found that over three quarters of human genes were also present in Botryllus schlosseri.
The reserachers see possibilities of cures for heart diseases, cataracts, and deafness. So perhaps we should think twice before scraping off the orange muck from the bottom of our boats, or the harbour wall at low tide.
It’s fairly unanimously agreed that the dinosaurs ceased to exist 65 million years ago. Well, apart from turtles, some small lizards and crocodile-like reptiles. There is evidence that a huge amount of ash, smoke, debris and other sun-blocking material were thrown up into the atmosphere and spread around the young earth, causing the temperature to plummet and with it, the fortunes of the dinosaurs who for so long had ruled the planet. There is also evidence that this was caused by a huge meteorite impacting in Siberia and throwing up the deadly sunscreen, rather than a wave of linked volcanic activity.
Bit if that meteorite had just been o.o1% wide of the mark it would have skimmed the earth’s atmosphere and the only thing the dinosaurs would have noticed would have been a bright sky for a 30 minutes, then back to normal: Herbivores munching the huge expanse of forest vegetation and the carnivores hunting them down. And then what? Assuming that a second meteorite didn’t have the earth in its sights, and that history would have been the same, albeit delayed by a million years or so, what path would evolution take? Would we still be here? What would have happened to the dinosaurs?
There are a number of schools of thought on this issue. The first is that dinosaurs would have dies out by other means, and that mammals would have taken over eventually without meteoritic intervention. Some scientist think that they were the equivalent of the evolutionary fins on cars in the 1950s- they grew to silly proportions, had no practical benefit and just fizzled out. Another theory says that they ate themselves to death and poisoned themselves and most of the plant in their own faeces. I kid you not. There number and size of late Jurassic era dinosaurs meant that not only did they eat up all the carboniferous forests that circled the earth, but they poo’s more quickly than the earth could re-cycle their dumping grounds. They literally shat themselves into extinction.
But my favourite, and one that the majority of scientists say is possible is that given a few more tens of millions of years, the dinosaurs would have evolved much larger brains. Bigger brains means more intelligence. Given another 10 million years of evolution, then dinosaurs would have begun to shrink in size, and become more aware of their surroundings and began to develop thought and consciousness.
A few more eons and scientists say that they would have developed opposing thumbs. That would have been a great step forward, allowing them with their advancing brains. to fashion tools. Yep. Dino-tools. What about the mammals? Well there would have been no reason for mammals to evolve and take over. There would have been no gap, no niche for them. And by this time, dinosaurs would have advanced sufficiently that they would have been able to out-think and out-evolve mammals. Even if mammals had begun to rise, the new dinosaurs would have crushed them out of existence in order to maintain their grip on earth. In fact some scientists say that just as there were early battles between Neanderthal man and cro-Magnon/Neolithic man that ended in the triumph of homo-sapiens, there would have been a battle between neo-dinosaurs and early man. Except that the dinosaurs would have had the upper hand- been able to out-wit and out-techno early man, by using weapons and tactics that had evolved over millions of years. Early man would not have stood a chance.
So next time you look at an alligator in the zoo, and see it eyeing you hungrily- just think what might have happened had that meteorite not struck the earth…
Earlier this week, More 4, who seem to almost be the main sponsor for Prof Richard Dawkins’ theories, broadcast the first of his trilogy of programmes; Sex, Death and the Meaning of Life. As always, there’s going to be a fuss. As an atheist who favours science over faith, he’s never going to be Mr Popular. Except of course among fellow atheists. But the problem is that trying to gather atheists into a united group to challenge anything is like herding cats. Because atheists are made up of people from all walks of life, genders, countries, politican views, cultures… but of course excluding faiths and religions. A belief in science alone, is not enough to bond atheists into a body that might challenge and be heard more effectively. However, this series of programmes give those willing to listen without prejudice, an insight into his thinking, and a way to decide whether you agree with his views.
The first episode, repeated at the ungodly hour (sorry) of 2.30am this Friday 22 October on Channel 4, the evolutionary biologist and bete noir of organised religion, explores ethical questions, pondering what would happen if people abandoned all religious beliefs. He examines the roles of reason and science to inspire and guide life, beginning with a look at sin and morality, an undertaking that sees him travelling from inner-city London to America’s Bible Belt. You must try to catch the programme- it should make you think and question no matter where you lie on the line from atheist, through agnostic to believer to zealot. There are interesting expositions given that suggest that those without religious convictions can still be “good” even moral, while those who preach a code of conduct will sometimes go against that code when their religious beliefs are challenged. What makes non-believers good? Science? Genes? A love of fellow man? Parental control?
In the upcoming episode 2, next week, Dawkins asks why do human beings so crave an afterlife? How do we face death if there is no God and death really is the end? This isn’t all talking to the camera, thank heaven. We see a funeral pyre in India and a meeting with the discoverer of DNA James Watson. Dawkins suggests that the traits we inherit and pass on are the closest humanity will ever come to immortality. Good news for the cryogenics industry or not? His starting point is that ‘religion denies death is real.’ But he’s not really that provocative- in fact almost mellow in mood. And that means you are less likely to be offended, and more likely to listen.
Well worth watching whatever your views. The problem is that if you have faith in a religion, then to “lose faith” is always seen as a retrograde step, a failing, and not as a revelation as scales are lifted from the eyes. I really don’t think this programme will convert many believers to the Dawkins view, but will probably just reinforce established views. Perhaps the best bet is for agnostics to be persuaded to one side of the fence or the other. As in politics- go for the floating voter! But the one question he seemed to skip over was that strange beast- the religious scientist. Many eminent scientists, biologists and doctors, who know how we tick, have religious beliefs. Id science is the all-conquering.. how come? Are they just hedging their bets?
I will have the answer for you. But unfortunately not until after my death. Catch you later, then…
Michael Mosley may seem like most of us: Hewants to live longer, stay younger and lose weight in the bargain. And probably like most of us, he wants to make as few changes to his life as possible along the way. Gain without pain? In a fascinating video on YouTube, Mosley talks about his re-discovery of the powerful new science behind the ancient idea of fasting. The video shows him testing out a theory that you can fast, and yet still enjoy food, on himself.
And while we are on the subject of science helping us live longer, it’s worth just stopping to think what effect innovation medicine, technology and science has had on our longevity over the history of Homo Sapien. During the last few thousand years, we have tripled the number of years we can expect to live. Despite the Bible saying that the average life of a man before he met his maker was “three score years and ten”, very few people lived to 70 in ancient times, and across the globe, it was considered an achievement to pass 30 years of age. Scientists say that there is no reason why, with all the galloping medical advances we are making at the moment, we cannot triple again the average number of years we can expect to live. And then triple it again. Already, scientists say that the first person to live to be 150 years old is already alive today. And twenty years time after someone has reached 150, someone will have been born who will live to be an extremely ripe old age of 1000!
These are the predictions of a leading scientist,Dr Aubrey De Grey. He is the biomedical gerontologist and chief scientist of a foundation dedicated to longevity research. He claims that within his own lifetime doctors will have all the tools they need to ‘cure’ ageing, banishing all diseases, and extending life indefinitely.
Dr De Grey said: ‘I’d say we have a 50/50 chance of bringing ageing under what I’d call a decisive level of medical control within the next 25 years or so. ‘And what I mean by decisive is the same sort of medical control that we have over most infectious diseases today.’
The British scientist sees ageing as merely the life-long accumulation of various types of molecular and cellular damage throughout the body. He considers this is repairable:
‘The idea is to engage in what you might call preventative geriatrics, where you go in to periodically repair that molecular and cellular damage before it gets to the level of abundance that is pathogenic,’ he said.
An average of three months is being added to life expectancy every year at the moment and experts estimate there could be a million centenarians across the world by 2030. Up until now, the world’s longest-living person on record lived to 122 and in Japan alone there were more than 44,000 people over 100 years old in 2010.
But will we be all washed out mumbling drooling zombies in wheelchairs as we reach and pass 150? No. The expert says ‘This is absolutely not a matter of keeping people alive in a bad state of health. This is about preventing people from getting sick as a result of old age.
Dr De Grey is working with colleagues in the U.S. to identify enzymes in other species that can break down the garbage and clean out the cells – and the aim then is to devise genetic therapies to give this capability to humans. We wish him well!
Is it possible that this century, there will be people who will not die? Is immortality within our grasp? Will the elixir of life be found? The valley of Shangri -La discovered? A leading Russian scientist thinks so.
Dr. Igor Vishev, 80 years old, a distinguished Russian scientist and philosopher, believes we can gain immortality by the year 2100. Before we examine his theory, let’s see who who is. Vishev is totally blind. He has been since he was 14, when he had a tragic chemical accident. However this has not prevented him from having a very full academic career. he regularly addresses international conferences, works on a computer in several languages, and relaxes by playing chess, and skiing with his grandchildren.
His theory is that medical technology and innovation are advancing at such a rate, that later this century, we will be able to use genetic engineering, stem cell advances, replacement organs, nanotechnology, and other advances to allow homo sapiens to live to 200 years and beyond, even to infinity/immortality. Because 200 year old people will have so much more experience to draw on, he believes that what he calls “practical immortology” can be achieved. People could still die in accidents, but he believes that to not die is not unnatural, but the next stage in human evolution.
There’s more. He thinks that advances in understanding cloning techniques could mean that resurrection could be achieved. And you may not even have to have preserved yourself in a cryo-chamber. The extrapolation of the theory is that our children would use future scientific technology to resurrect their parents, who in turn would resurrect theirs, all the way back to Adam and Eve. The details here are a bit sketchy, but DNA is one of the fundamentals in the equation.
Vishev comes from a long line of Russian philosophers and scientists who believe that we are destined for immortality. For example, by re-engineering our bodies we should eventually be able to survive and thrive on an autotrophic diet where we feed on sunlight and air instead of on plants and animals. That’s a bit of a blow for the fast-food restaurant trade.
Vishev’s ideas are not just mumbo-jumbo. When one looks at the astonishing medical progression over the last 100 years, it doesn’t seem that unreasonable that morbidities such as cancer, can be overcome. The real question that we may want to be addressing, is do we want to live forever? What would immortality do to our thinking? Would it freak us out with the prospect of eternal boredom? And what about marriage vows- “till death do us part” meaning that in practice you will wake up next to the same person forever? And a prison sentence of “life”…? Maybe Shangri-La won’t be all that great after all’…