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Medicine Science

Aging Discovery Yields Nobel Prize 187

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i'm-still-getting-older-here dept.
An anonymous reader writes This year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine is awarded to three scientists who have solved a major problem in biology: how the chromosomes can be copied in a complete way during cell divisions and how they are protected against degradation. The Nobel Laureates have shown that the solution is to be found in the ends of the chromosomes, called the telomeres, and in an enzyme that forms them."
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Aging Discovery Yields Nobel Prize

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  • Good find (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MistrX (1566617) on Monday October 05, 2009 @09:55AM (#29643693)

    It's great news however how are we going to solve the population crisis when the Earth gets too small?

    I always knew I was going to be 512 years old before I die. :]

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by NoYob (1630681)
      What, you live in binary years? So, you'll die when you're 0x200?
    • Re:Good find (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Dunbal (464142) on Monday October 05, 2009 @10:02AM (#29643747)

      Well of course the wealthy elite will be allowed to breed and live longer, while the serfs will be culled at regular intervals, through war, etc.

      Business as usual, really. The more things change, the more things stay the same.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by TheRaven64 (641858)

        breed and live longer

        There's the important phrase. As long as you don't breed, there is no economic problem with your living forever. Good news for Slashdot denizens, not such good news for Catholics.

      • by Nikker (749551)
        You forget the wealthy don't like to get their hands dirty and they like to believe they are better than someone else. If the poor / middle class never existed they would be killed off by those with more power then them. There are some things you just can't get away from.
        • by Dunbal (464142)

          No, I'm not saying kill them off. Someone needs to clean the loo. Just manage their numbers so they don't become too much of a bother, wot eh?

      • And it's already happening. Also, a "economic crisis" is a good way, to weed out people. "Health" systems designed for death and disease also work fine. But you're right: Combine them with "war" and you got a quicker solution.

        Especially since it's easy to hide behind the stress that by laws of nature will come upon a population that has less and less resources per person. Naturally population growth will slow down and stall at the point of balance. Until there is a way to optimize things more, or someone fi

      • If you don't want to be a serf, and if you don't want to be culled, then become wealthy. If you don't like these options then stop supporting American capitalism.

    • by rastilin (752802)

      Technology will continue to make food production cheaper. We haven't even expanded into the oceans and large cities like Tokyo are still fairly rare on the earth's surface. We might have to give up some luxury foods for more efficiently produced goods. But I doubt that will be too crushingly widespread. More importantly; as people get wealthier the amount of children they have drops down, for example I am an only child and so is my cousin.

      Beyond that; there's plenty of room among the stars.

      • by Yvan256 (722131) on Monday October 05, 2009 @11:51AM (#29645251) Homepage Journal

        More importantly; as people get wealthier the amount of children they have drops down, for example I am an only child and so is my cousin.

        And some people never have any children, such as my parents.

        • You joke, but this is possible through adoption. You can raise a child without having one...

          (Unless of course that's what you meant)

          • by Yvan256 (722131)

            Oups, no offense intended to those who were adopted as this was supposed to be a joke and I forgot about that possibility.

        • And some people never have any children, such as my parents.

          That's sad, but even worse things happen. My children never had any parents!

      • by PitaBred (632671)

        "as people get wealthier the amount of children they have drops down, for example I am an only child and so is my cousin."

        In the short term. In the longer term, as people get older and there are fewer young people in the workforce, you get a situation like is happening in Japan [wikipedia.org]. It's not happening here in the US quite yet due to an influx from Mexico and a different culture, but it's still something to think about.

      • by RDW (41497)

        'Technology will continue to make food production cheaper. We haven't even expanded into the oceans and large cities like Tokyo are still fairly rare on the earth's surface. We might have to give up some luxury foods for more efficiently produced goods.'

        But Soylent Green is People!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dword (735428)

      Some say it got small a long time ago, because it can support around 500.000 humans at the rate we're "eating" its resources.
      Source [youtube.com].

      • Re:Good find (Score:4, Insightful)

        by corbettw (214229) <corbettw@y a h o o . c om> on Monday October 05, 2009 @10:42AM (#29644179) Journal

        If that number were anywhere close to accurate, we would have massive amounts of starvation across the globe, considering the current population is more than 12,000 times the number you provided for the theoretical max population.

        • Re:Good find (Score:5, Insightful)

          by DrLang21 (900992) on Monday October 05, 2009 @10:57AM (#29644403)
          It's also worth pointing out that the starvation we do have is not for lack of food production.
          • by FooAtWFU (699187)

            Norman Borlaug [xrl.us] singlehandedly saved the world from starvation due to food production.

            (An exaggeration, but a slight one.)

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              I always hate it when people go on about how the world is going to collapse due to overpopulation but forget to take into account that the number of people the earth can sustain is not set in stone. Sure, infinite population growth on a finite world, its going to happen eventually, but in the foreseeable future, its not a problem. We were all supposed to have starved years ago. Borlaug proved that more than everyone, as long as we keep our agricultural practices and plants current (no sliding backwards i

      • by Yvan256 (722131)

        The earth can only support 500 humans?

    • Less reproduction.

      Of course that should be happening anyway, whether or not we achieve artificially increased lifespans.

    • by tom17 (659054)
      I was planning on living to about 640 thousand years. Should be enough for anyone to do & see everything. Tom...
    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      Expect to get it via a combined immortality/sterilization jab.

    • by vertinox (846076)

      It's great news however how are we going to solve the population crisis when the Earth gets too small?

      I dunno... Maybe we can actually have a good reason for space colonization.

    • by ajlisows (768780)

      I'm thinking more like 640. That should be enough for anybody. ;)

    • by relguj9 (1313593)

      It's great news however how are we going to solve the population crisis when the Earth gets too small?

      I always knew I was going to be 512 years old before I die. :]

      One way trip to Mars... not actually a joke ;). http://www.universetoday.com/2008/03/04/a-one-way-one-person-mission-to-mars/ [universetoday.com]

    • by moon3 (1530265)
      Too small ? Earth is still very underpopulated, look how many people Japanese can sqeeze per mile. US is an 'empty space' compared to Philippines, Japan, Singapore or similar place.
  • OK (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rik Sweeney (471717) on Monday October 05, 2009 @09:58AM (#29643719) Homepage

    So they've changed the chromosome code to encode data using a lossless codec instead of a lossy one. Terrific, now we have to put up with people moaning about the lack of FLAC encoding in their music AND genes.

    Thanks a bunch, stupid scientists.

  • by Vanderhoth (1582661) on Monday October 05, 2009 @10:15AM (#29643877)
    I would settle for being put to death at 85 to keep population under control, if it meant my bones, mussels and organs didn't age. One of the worst thing about watching someone get old is to see their self reliance taken away and needing someone to help them into and out of the bath, change their diaper, feed them and put them to bed. THE worst thing is realizing someday it could and probably will happen to you.

    It's sad but you start off with needing someone to look after you and that's how it ends, if you live that long.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I would hate to have my mussels age too. They really are better fresh.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 05, 2009 @10:21AM (#29643935)

      One of the worst thing about watching someone get old is to see their self reliance taken away and needing someone to help them into and out of the bath, change their diaper, feed them and put them to bed.

      Speak for yourself.

      I had to change my kids' diapers. Turnabout is fair play.

      I, for one, look forward to being a burden to my family and making them change my diaper.

    • Speak for yourself (Score:5, Insightful)

      by arcite (661011) on Monday October 05, 2009 @10:24AM (#29643961)
      There was a story out the other day saying that 50% of the people being born now in developed countries will reach age 100.

      So Speak for yourself if you want to jump off a bridge at 85. I work with several incredibly bright people who are in their mid 70's who still travel the world. With the advent of information technology we can even do our work without being physically active, just a computer and internet access.

      By the time I turn 85 in the 2050's, it will be the new 55! I'll race you to the top of the mountain.

      • I work with several incredibly bright people who are in their mid 70's who still travel the world.

        My next-door neighbors are in their mid-80s. He just recently gave up farming, and she's having a great time writing articles for travel magazines. They go to their condo in Hawaii for a couple of months each year, and just left to take an RV cross-country.

        My other next-door neighbors recently passed away. Their minds were sharp, but your body tends to give out when you're in your late 90s.

        I'm really hoping that it's something in the water.

      • The lifespans will be similar to what it's always been. 50% of the population wont be living to 100, trust me.

    • You don't see the health 85-year-olds because they are out doing things. They don't just sit in front of the TV and waste away. Okay, many of them do. But the ones that are physically fit are out there as well. Just saw an 82 year old that still works 6 hours a day (don't know how many days a week) at Walmart. He said he'll quit when he's dead, and I believe him.

      Over-population is going to be a problem with no easy solutions, but why put to death the 82 year old contributing member of society (just bec

    • by bughunter (10093)

      Right. You say that now, but when you turn 85, we'd have to send out an enforcer to consummate the contract.

      (And don't even bring up Logan's Run. The last thing I want to imagine is looking up the robes of a gaggle of 85-year-olds, levitating skyward to their deaths.)

    • Youthful until the very end, then decline quickly.
    • I would settle for being put to death at 85 to keep population under control, if it meant my bones, mussels and organs didn't age.

      I suspect you'd feel differently about that when you're actually 85 and still in perfect health. Still, if an arbitrary age-limit can be set, who says it has to be 85, or will stay 85, or be 85 for everyone?

      The world of Logan's Run [wikipedia.org] (movie: Logan's Run [wikipedia.org]) wasn't all that great for everyone...

    • I would settle for being put to death at 85 to keep population under control, if it meant my bones, mussels and organs didn't age. One of the worst thing about watching someone get old is to see their self reliance taken away and needing someone to help them into and out of the bath, change their diaper, feed them and put them to bed. THE worst thing is realizing someday it could and probably will happen to you.

      You would want to not age, remain healthy throughout your life, then be put to death at 85 years? Somehow, I imagine chasing runaway 84 yr olds becoming a big business.

    • If you only have one kid you wont be driving the population out of control. Now if you have 20 kids and they all live forever and you are all on welfare like the Octomom, then we have a problem.

  • old news (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tim4444 (1122173) on Monday October 05, 2009 @10:18AM (#29643907)
    The summary makes this sound like a recent discovery but this has been known for some time. Also, it has more to do with cell aging than human aging. It's very important in cancer research since abnormal telomere activity is one of the factors in making cancer cells immortal (so to speak). They mention this in TFA. BTW, senescence is (naturally) programmed cell death:

    Most normal cells do not divide frequently, therefore their chromosomes are not at risk of shortening and they do not require high telomerase activity. In contrast, cancer cells have the ability to divide infinitely and yet preserve their telomeres. How do they escape cellular senescence? One explanation became apparent with the finding that cancer cells often have increased telomerase activity. It was therefore proposed that cancer might be treated by eradicating telomerase. Several studies are underway in this area, including clinical trials evaluating vaccines directed against cells with elevated telomerase activity.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ashtophoenix (929197)
      I agree that the article makes it sound recent and I got misled too before reading TFA. But can you explain why you differentiate between cell aging and human aging? Isn't human aging a consequence of cell aging?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by herring0 (1286926)
        From what I recall of genetics, the cellular aging is (partially) what leads to shorter life spans and increased age related problems in clones. If you are cloning an animal it is kind of like making a copy of a copy since the telomeres are actually a part of the chromosomes they are transferred into the new host.

        This leads to the telomeres being extended far beyond their 'normal' lifespan and you end up with all kinds of abnormalities that usually wouldn't be present until the subject is much older even t
      • by myc (105406)

        I agree that the article makes it sound recent and I got misled too before reading TFA.
        But can you explain why you differentiate between cell aging and human aging? Isn't human aging a consequence of cell aging?

        cell aging is different than organism aging. Cells, by and large, are cheap to produce and are expendable. You produce cells via binary cell division; one cell becomes two new cells. However, most cell lineages can divide only a finite number of times. When cells from a lineage have undergone a certa

    • Re:old news (Score:5, Insightful)

      by KraftDinner (1273626) on Monday October 05, 2009 @10:35AM (#29644093)
      I'm not sure where you are seeing that the summary sounds like it's a recent discovery. The only thing would be that the scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize this year, which is true. And yes, you're right, this discovery is not recent. Of course, it sometimes takes decades for people to be awarded a Nobel Prize for work they did decades ago.
      • by emurphy42 (631808)
        Implication by omission. Even having heard something about telomeres a couple of years ago, based on the summary alone, I thought they might have made some new discovery on the subject more recently. You have to get about halfway through TFA before the actual date of the award-winning discovery (late 1984) is specified.
      • by bughunter (10093)

        And yes, you're right, this discovery is not recent.

        Of course it's not. It says so right in the title that it's an "Aging Discovery."

    • by dissy (172727)

      The summary makes this sound like a recent discovery but this has been known for some time. Also, it has more to do with cell aging than human aging.

      That's kind of funny. At first, I read the title as the discovery itself was aging, and came to the correct conclusion if it not being a new discovery, despite that being a clear misunderstanding of the title.

  • It is certainly beginning to look like aging is less a series of complex interactions and more like a fairly simple "on/off" switch. Granted that we don't have the whole puzzle figured out but this discovery does not point to a massively complex series of systems that cause aging. if anything it seems to suggest that we only need to get good at inserting DNA into specific points in a cell in order to stop or reverse aging.

    Why even bother with things like HRT when you can just tell people's cells to sto
    • Life doesn't revolve around making the lives of individual organisms comfortable or convenient. It revolves around the ability of the species genes to propagate. Having immortal organisms would actually hinder genetic variation and hurt the species. If an organism did stumble upon an unlimited source of energy, the specie's survival is best served if that organism still eventually dies and it's then the energy source is utilized by offspring, who in turn later die too.

      It serves a purpose that's somewhat

      • by MikeURL (890801)
        So evolution finds a state where the organism can live indefinitely and it still must die? That seems self-defeating from a biological point of view. The organism adapts until it is optimally suited to the environment. It isn't clear to me why that MUST include dying.

        Then again maybe the designer made aging relatively easy to turn off so that we can do so when we're ready.
        • If an organism can live forever and continue to reproduce then it will be competing with itself and eventually die out (unless it has a lot of predators that keep killing it before it dies of old age, but then living forever isn't any kind of advantage so a mutation that removes this won't be selected against). If an organism can live forever and not reproduce then it is an evolutionary dead-end; it will cease to change while the descendants of its siblings continue to adapt to changing circumstances and e

          • by MikeURL (890801)
            I guess the way I see it is that an immortal being would reproduce VERY slowly until conditions change and then reproduction would speed up, in a proportional way, if conditions worsen (at least that is how humans have seemed to operate for most of modern history).

            I'm getting at the fact that we appear heading toward being completely unhitched from "standard evolutionary" models. I don't think immortals are around the corner but this discovery is certainly a big step toward turning off aging. If they h
        • by Gerafix (1028986)
          You're looking at this from the wrong perspective. Evolution simply didn't select for immortality as we know it. There are many longer lived organisms on Earth than H. sapien. Perhaps if our very early ancestors somehow selected for longer lived mates we ourselves would be longer lived... maybe. I'm sure you know that organisms only pass on the genes of those who reproduce. Genes themselves have been created to pass on to the next generation, not to live forever. We are simply an expression of our genes, ge
      • by bnenning (58349)

        Evolution and immortality wouldn't mix well.

        True, and that's fine. Evolution is slow and stupid; it took billions of years to produce marginally intelligent apes. We can do better.

        • Do better for yourself, the individual, perhaps, but it could also have the very negative impact of intellectual stagnation for the species, causing progress to plateau.

          How would any future Einsteins ever be born with a population that refuses to die and make room for new life?

          Immortality, even for a sentient species, could be a bad thing in the big picture.

  • by SEWilco (27983)

    the solution is to be found in the ends of the chromosomes

    The solution is left as a exercise for the reader.

  • I was actually wondering how viral technology was evolving. I'm far from a biologist, so correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't we able to reverse engineer and create our own viruses in laboratories now? Doesn't a virus take over your cell and reprogram it with the code wrapped up in the virus itself? It starts making the cell pump out tons of new viruses which ultimately bursts the cell and kills it. How much more difficult would it be to create a virus with your DNA from saved blood at age 20 (say your 60
    • by wurp (51446)

      A very interesting idea, but...

      I'm not a biologist either, but mammalian viruses are all RNA, afaik, and "additive" not replacements. I.e. they just make the cell do new things, they can't make it not do old things (apoptasis). Even retroviruses add more to the genome; they don't replace the genome.

      This is all per my biology recall supplemented with Wikipedia.

    • Yes this is called 'Gene Therapy' and one of the big issues is getting a virus to place the DNA inside the chromosome in the correct spot.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by myc (105406)

      no, engineered viruses are nowhere near that advanced. Most viruses are limited by payload; there is a limit to how much DNA (or RNA) you can engineer into a viral particle. (not unlike a BIOS virus I suppose). Also, the viruses that are able to modify the host genome do so at random locations, so it is hard to precisely control where you want a particular modification to occur. And, the virus only modifies a very small portion of the host genome. Finally, most viruses are highly picky as to what kinds of c

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Viruses have very small genomes in comparison with the human genome; many viruses get by with fewer than ten genes, while we have around twenty thousand. In addition, viruses don't arrange their genes in structures anything like the chromatin we use. Packaging a replacement human genome to infect human cells would require a vector so completely re-engineered from what we would currently recognize as a virus that we'd probably want to call it something else. Getting that infection procedure to work withou
      • I don't work in this field but it was my understanding from reading about it that mitochondrial aging and increasing lack of efficiency in supporting oxidative phosphorylation, as a result of oxidative damage, was a major cause of cellular aging. I've never read about anyone suggesting a mechanism for replacing mitochondria (numbering between dozes and tens of thousands per cell) although I've read about people saying it'd be an enormous help in reversing at least some organism-level age-related malfunctio
      • procedure to work without killing the patient is far, far beyond current technology

        /. crowd is not much into biotech, it looks like you have some insight here, can you tell us whether we can theoretically do anything with aging in say 10 years from now?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hoggoth (414195)

      > There would have to be a few modifications made, for example, making it invisible to your immune system,

      That's just what we need... a human-engineered virus that is completely invisible to your immune system. There is no way THAT could ever cause any problems as it mixed with other viruses in the wild.

  • I want to know where the line up is for getting our dna altered to remove these telomeres from my body, so I can no longer age.
    I have a lot of work to do, my boss keeps on piling more, so I need to know I can stick around for another 100 years or so.

  • A screenplay about a young woman who suffers a telomerase problem:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/13561852/Breakfast-in-the-Next-Century-an-original-screenplay [scribd.com]

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