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Sci-Fi Science

Geneticists Claim Aging Breakthrough 408

Quirk writes "The Science section of The Guardian is reporting on recent experiments by geneticists 'to unlock the secrets of the aging process has created organisms that live six times their usual lifespan, raising hopes that it might be possible to slow ageing in humans.' 'In the experiment, Dr Longo's team took yeast cells and knocked out two key genes, named Sir2 and SCH9. The latter governs the cells' ability to convert nutrients into energy. They found that instead of dying after a week, the cells lived for up to six weeks.''Research has now begun to test whether the effect works in mice.' So it looks like we might soon have near immortal, fearless mice."
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Geneticists Claim Aging Breakthrough

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  • Hilander (Score:5, Funny)

    by Morky ( 577776 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @06:04PM (#14066733)
    I am Mickey McMouse of the clan McMouse, and I am immortal.
  • didn't they find the secret of aging in worms some while ago?
  • We have that already (Score:5, Informative)

    by Chowser ( 888973 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @06:05PM (#14066751)
    We have cells already that are not governed by the normal life/death cell cycle. It's called CANCER. Cancer cells have autononmous growth and multiply indefinitely.
    • by iamplupp ( 728943 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @06:22PM (#14066960) Homepage
      You are over simplifying. For a normal cell to become a tumor cell all of the following mutations are required:

      * telomerase activity
      * insensitivity to apoptosis by either disrupting the proapoptotic signal pathway (Bax, P53, effector-caspase etc) increase the expression of antiapoptotic signals such as Bcl-2
      * growth factor independence (ie constitutively active Ras)
      * insentivitity to growth inhibitors
      * proangiogenetic mutations
      • by Chowser ( 888973 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @06:41PM (#14067135)
        Yes I know, it was a purposeful oversimplification. My point was also showing that jumping from yeast cells to mice is overly optimistic at best, and that transferring such a mutation from a single cell organism to a mammal may lead to unforseen consequences.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 18, 2005 @07:19PM (#14067441)
          Actually, jumping from yeast to mice is a fairly common thing to do in genetic research. I'm oversimplifying here as well, but the way genetic research often works is to start with a eukaryote model (yeast), then move to an animal model (like drosophila, or fruit flies), then a mammal model (mouse), before moving on to more complex mammals (with the ultimate goal being humans). Along the way, you might also pass through other species (one of my colleagues downstairs is all about sea urchins). Since each of these experiments can take a long time (though simpler organisms tend to be faster, which is why they're used), I suppose it would make sense to go straight from yeast to mice if you already know that these same genes are present.

          It's astonishing how much genetic material is shared going all the way back to yeast, and how much genetic research is transferable. Yeast is a eukaryote (so, while single-celled, they have a nuclei, unlike bacteria), and though it usually reproduces asexually, it can be made to undergo meiosis and bind half its genetic material with that of a "mate".

          Note: I am not a genetic researcher, but I work in the same research facility as some, and am encouraged to understand more or less what they do.
        • Well the foreseen consequences of not doing anything about aging are well known... getting frail, sick and dying.

          The Sirtuin genes are well established as a regulator of genes expressed near the ends of telomeres and there are many researchers studying its effects in mammals in fact there are pharmaceutical companies (Sirtris for instance) betting the pharm that, resveratrol, a component of red wine and activator of mammalian sir2 pathway, can be tweaked into a more powerful drug and help everyone live
    • I thought cancer cells die just like regular cells; however their vastly increased reproduction rates, over time, cause the "cancer" effect and runaway growth?
  • i know exactly when these amazing age-related breakthroughs will come to fruition for humanity

    exactly at the age at which i am too old to partake of any of it
    • That's not a joke. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @06:48PM (#14067194) Journal
      i know exactly when these amazing age-related breakthroughs will come to fruition for humanity

      exactly at the age at which i am too old to partake of any of it

      That's not really a joke.

      People in government see anti-aging research and treatments in terms of the financial load on the retirement and medical infrastructure relative to the tax base of still-working young, and view improved treatments as extending the life of the infirm aged rather than extending productive, vigorous youth. As a result they tend to be opposed to such research, or in favor of rationing its fruits if it ever has any.

      (I recall back in the early days of CNN, when the head of one of the government agencies was being live-interviewed on future solvency issues as the boomers retired, and he slipped and said "We have to get the death rate up to meet the birthrate." Guess what part got clipped from the replay a few hours later...)

      Life-extension advocates, of course, point out that real breakthroughs will extend healthy, vigorous life rather than simply stretching senility - and might eventually eliminate the latter entirely. Thus an effective attack on aging would reduce, rather than increase, the load on the systems (once they were adjusted for the increased lifespan).

      You'll notice that a significant fraction of The Fine Article is dedicated to heading off such short-sightedness on the part of the portion of the ruling class that will be dispensing grant money and regulating availability of any treatments.
      • by bigpat ( 158134 )
        Life-extension advocates, of course, point out that real breakthroughs will extend healthy, vigorous life rather than simply stretching senility - and might eventually eliminate the latter entirely. Thus an effective attack on aging would reduce, rather than increase, the load on the systems (once they were adjusted for the increased lifespan).

        Yes, but the politicians worry that they can only use the same old tricks on people for so long before they wise up, so they don't want people living too much longer.
  • It's gonna get.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by earthloop ( 449575 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @06:05PM (#14066753) Homepage
    ..real crowded in the world if we're all immortal.
  • by intmainvoid ( 109559 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @06:05PM (#14066754)
    Unfortunately being fearless is going to cancel out immortality pretty quickly, when the mouse isn't scared of humans, or their traps...
  • by BobCat7 ( 851805 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @06:05PM (#14066755)
    At this rate I'm never gonna get to sit at the big table on Thanksgiving
  • Yawn (Score:5, Funny)

    by ENOENT ( 25325 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @06:05PM (#14066756) Homepage Journal
    Where we can get fearless, immortal, FLYING mice, then I'll be excited.

    Especially if they can also sing "Here I come to save the day."
    • Where we can get fearless, immortal, FLYING mice, then I'll be excited.

      Especially if they can also sing "Here I come to save the day."

      Hey, we just need to splice in some bat DNA and we can have vampire, flying fearless, immortal mice.
  • fantastic (Score:3, Funny)

    by Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @06:06PM (#14066763)
    This will give Brain time to take over the world!
  • Unless breakthroughs like this can improve the quality of life, it's a neat but ultimately worthless advance. Humans already life way longer than the length of time they're useful to society, and if we suddenly have people living 6 times as long but still degrading by 70-90, we're just going to sink even more quickly.

    Now, humans living a few hundred years and staying able-bodied for most of it would be an incredible advance and would probably serve to benefit society, but... otherwise... I fear and do NOT w
  • "So it looks like we might soon have near immortal, fearless mice."

    I think you meant immortal, fearless, singing, regenerating, plague-infected mice.

    Can't be bothered pasting all the links, here's the link to the /. old stories results page for mice: h or=&sort=1&op=stories []
  • I for one welcome our fearless, near-immortal, rodent overlords.

    (that wouldn't be Frankie and Benjie mouse, by an chance, would it?)
  • by RingDev ( 879105 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @06:09PM (#14066796) Homepage Journal
    Fearless imortal mice?!? Maybe my "wanna see my spaceship" pick up line will start working again!

  • Moral Questions: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by under_score ( 65824 ) <> on Friday November 18, 2005 @06:09PM (#14066806) Homepage
    If this works (eventually) with humans, who will get access to it? How will we justify the use of this when so many people die very young from preventable causes that are beyond their control (as opposed to simply not taking care of oneself)? How will we prevent the extreme accumulation of wealth that this would allow if it is not equally accessible to everyone?
    • The amount of funding spent on anti-aging research is TINY compared the total US research budget.

      "How will we justify the use of this when so many people die very young from preventable causes"

      Um, because allowing normal people to die while there is a cure for their aging would be akin to murder?
  • Hey- check out the legs on that 90 year old over there. She is one smoking granny.

    So ninety would be like the new 20s?

    The sad thing is- they wouldn't change the retirement age- and people would collect SS for 5/6th of their lifespan. The polticians wouldn't touch that hot potato. Our tax rates will be 80% of our income.

  • Good news: you get to live to be 570 years old
    Bad news: for 500 of those years you have to wear diapers and are senile

    Gee it sounds like a dream come true.

  • by n0dalus ( 807994 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @06:11PM (#14066834) Journal
    It's a huge jump to say that a single-celled fungi's life can be improved to saying it can also be done for a mammal with thousands of different kinds of cells and billions of cells in total. A lot of our physiology actually relies on cells having a short lifetime. I doubt those mice will even live one day.
  • Narf! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Chuckstar ( 799005 )
    "Pinky, are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

    "I think I am, Brain, but wherever are we going to find cool whip and rubber shorts at this hour?"
  • Like the subject title says, this study was done on yeast, not mice. And while it's a cool study and there are homologs between yeast and humans, don't expect 6 fold life span improvements in humans anytime soon.
  • without waxing too poetic, life isn't about accumulating more moments, it's about investing the ones we have with as much quality as possible. life is short, but beautiful on account...if we had lifespans that measured on the geologic scale (or any scale much beyond the one we have present), the individual choices we make become less and less meaningful. quality over quantity, as always...
    • err can you define "quality". When you say "life is short, but beautiful on account" on whose or what account. To take your conclusion to the extreme the most beautiful and quality filled life would be those that a week live.
  • This isn't even an animal study, this is a purely in vitro model which means it may or may not translate to anything beyond that. All of the other "anti-aging breakthroughs" in animal models failed to produce the same results in humans. Cell lifespan alone isn't the reason humans die of old age, as the telomerase research showed.

    Great news if you're a yeast cell and like having a sluggish metabolism, though!

  • "...has created organisms that live six times their usual lifespan, raising hopes that it might be possible to slow ageing in humans."

    Great... this is just what our world needs. Half of Africa is malnourished and in China a woman is only allowed 1 child in her lifetime... and we're considering increasing our lifespans to 6x.

    Science is really neat, and all that... but sometimes, I swear, scientists don't think of the repurcussions of their actions. Do they take into consideration food consumption? Liv

    • Considering that the richest countries in the world, the ones that will be getting life extension tech first, mostly have shrinking populations... I don't think it would be a bad thing.
    • Society will adapt to the increase in life-span, just as it has adapted to the increase in life-span we've already seen. And, if the treatment allows newborns to live 6 times as long, and age much slower, think of how smart we'd become. If the brain doesn't degrade over the course of 300 years, you could have all sorts of intellectual insight that is currently stifled by old age. Imagine if Einstein were still alive today, bright as ever!
      • Imagine if Einstein were still alive today, bright as ever!

        And still denying quantum mechanics works...

        Out with the old and in with the new. If people lived hundreds of years it would take considerably longer to rid the world of things like racism. Humans are amazingly adept at holding grudges and are pretty bad about admitting fault or wrong-doing. Major change takes a generation or two typically. The old are much less likely to change their ways...
        • Re:great... (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Quaoar ( 614366 )
          Except that you can't lump all increases of life into the same category. Who's to say that this increase doesn't also affect the length of childhood? Adolescence? People can and do change their minds all the time. I totally disagree that slowing the aging process down and extending life is the wrong thing to do.
    • As a whole, the population in first world countries is on a decline other than immigration. Not to mention this study has about zero relevance for humans. Now get a haircut, stop smoking pot, and uncurl your arms from around that tree.

    • Just my $0.02... maybe the rest of you aren't so cynical.

      Cynical is a healthy state of being in this world. You, however, are not cynical. You could almost be called a hypocondriac ( spelling ).

      This works in fungus. Mammals are a whole different ball game. Further, if science were to slow down and consider the implications of all their work, we'd never have gotten fire.

      It's not up to them to consider the implications of their work. It's up to our leaders, at least that's how it's setup. No, I don't mu
    • Re:great... (Score:3, Funny)

      by RevMike ( 632002 )
      Don't worry. Scientists are also developing this new substance called soylent green which will help feed all these people.
    • You want to create a society where only the "brightest" get to live on? Now thats uptopian. Maybe we should just go back to hunter gathering societies and all die before we are 40 - except for the smart ones. How about looking at the possibilities such as

      Compensate birth rates like what is happening in industrial socities now.

      Finding ways to accomodate more people without destroying the environment.

      Extending our civiliation into the solar system and beyond which is good idea anyways - since having

    • Re:great... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by aminorex ( 141494 )
      Half of Africa is malnourished because we don't let people move to where the jobs are, and we don't send food to where the people are. This has nothing to do with aging.

      China's one child policy is a big mistake. China needs more urbanites, not less, in order to build the infrastructure to convert to industrial agriculture. But growth is high enough anyhow, so that
      the damage of the policy is not visible.

      You can reliably predict that as longevity increases, birth rates will decline. Simply applying the ex
  • by truckaxle ( 883149 ) * on Friday November 18, 2005 @06:17PM (#14066898) Homepage
    Longevity will provide the next inflection point of human capacity and progress. Imagine if the great people of science could continue to contribute and innovate for the equivalent of several lifetimes. Gauss was the last mathematician who was said to be able to be conversant with the entire spectrum of mathematics. Currently it takes a human a decade to two just to be abreast of a specific field of science to be able to make any significant contributions. The period of time available to advance our understanding is getting shorter and shorter due to increase in the body of knowledge and our limited life times.

    I know there will be the crowd that says - but we were designed to die. That is bunk! Self aware intelligence is bound and destined to perpetuated and proliferate.
    • "but we were designed to die."


      We merely evolved that way. I'll think I'm going to look for cover now.
      • err... designed is a now a loaded word - wrong choice. But reading some of the other comments above there are plenty of people who think that to die is just the orderly way things should be - don't mess with it. It alway pisses me off when people can't think outside of a box. The same arguement could be made about the first discover of agriculture, about how now socities will now be stable and the lifespans will double - doom doom now everone back to hunting mammoths.
    • The problem I have with this is that no one seems to be looking at the logistical problems of what would happen if the human life span was increased so much. I think that it is a pandora's box.
    • The full text of your title (Do not go gentle...; a villanelle by Dylan Thomas) (italics added):

      Do not go gentle into that good night,
      Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
      Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

      Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
      Because their words had forked no lightning they
      Do not go gentle into that good night.

      Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
      Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
      Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

      Wild men who caught
    • by TrevorB ( 57780 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @06:51PM (#14067230) Homepage
      There's one argument against longevity I've not been able to properly argue against, it's effects on social evolution.

      A lot of social change can take place because old people (and more specifically, old people ideas) die. I'm sure many of us feel that our ideas are enlightened and superior to those of our ancestors, but when we're all pushing 70, we really shouldn't be the ones deciding the direction which society goes. In the year 2050, we're all going to be bitter crotchety old people, set in our ideas talking about these young kids and their crazy ideas. I'm concerned what living in that kind of world will be like. It might have a stagnation effect on a culture, with other "non-longevity" cultures overtaking our own.

      I'm still 100% for longevity, but it's not going to be great grandmas and grandpas riding roller blades down the sidewalk as healthy as they were when they were 40. There's going to be definate social change the kind the human race has never seen.

      Be sure of one more thing. Someone's going to make a FORTUNE if effective anti-aging drugs can be mass produced. Like, hundreds of billions of dollars, hand over fist.

  • by Biotech9 ( 704202 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @06:20PM (#14066930) Homepage
    Here's a simple way to increase your lifespan. Eat less. In fact, halve the amount of food you eat.

    There are papers that you can search for with or that show rats that are given half the calories of the control group living almost 50% longer. It's just not exactly something that you can sell to people. You can live longer, if you live LESS. There's a reason animals that live very long lives have very slow metabolisms (such as Turtles) and animals that have very high metabolisms live less (such as humming birds and mice). To put it simply, you can 'burn the midnight oil' and live a short life, or eat less and do less and live longer.

    Putting it more complicatedly, the reason you age is generally regarded to be because of damage your body and cells accumulate over a lifetime of living. The damage often comes from 'Oxidative stress'. This is just a very broad umbrella term for anything that causes the generation of 'Reactive oxygen species' that are highly reactive molecules that zip about your cell damaging proteins and DNA. ROS are made by things such as too much Vitamin K, smoking, UV light or certain other radiation bands, too much iron in the diet, and so on.

    And the biggest contributor to ROS in your body over it's life? The Mitochondria. The 'power plant' of each cell. It makes ROS as a part of the process used to make ATP (the 'batteries' of your cells) and inevitably some escapes and causes damage. Over a life-time the damage builds up.

    The biggest contributor to ageing is just plain old living (kind of obvious really), and the best way to therefore cut down on that damage is to eat less, slowing down the metabolism and decreasing the amount of ROS the mitochondria produces.

    IMHO, not really worth it! you could get hit by a bus tomorrow! Dig into your fresh Chiabatta and Fetta cheese!
  • People have known for a long time that starving organisms and individual cells promotes long life. Likely there's a bunch of things going on, from reduction in oxidation damage of the cell to the cell expressing genes to cope with the minimal amount of nutrients it's able to process.

    A good analogy is that the cells go into a "hibernation" of sorts, not doing much, but not dying either. I suspect that some sort of drug may come out of this, but it'll likely have the side effect of people wanting to sit
  • I have two problems with this:
    1) I'd be worried what those genes did that they knocked out. I mean, I don't want to live six times longer and be impotent the whole time.
    2) There are a lot of asshats I don't want to live six times longer. The really scary thing is I'm related to some of them.
  • by ave19 ( 149657 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @06:24PM (#14066976)
    This is all a ploy by Disney to justify keeping Micky under copy-wraps for 600 years.
  • I think the mice that had some fear would be more immortal than the mice that were fearless. Now, the fearless solider mice are the ones that you'd want to send biting lions and tigers to death while most of your immortal peasant mice run way because they are scared.
  • Only old mice are fearless.
  • As someone who's recently finished reading The Schismatrix (EXCELLENT book btw), I read this and really start to wonder about what sorts of future social issues will arise from this. What sorts of social dynamics will change? A lot of people are against genetically modifying themselves...but what if they can suddenly live six times as long?

    You really gotta wonder where peoples morals and beliefs will end, and where the primal human instinct to survive and reproduce as much as possible will kick in and mak

  • I'm not so sure this would be a good idea for use on humans. As it is, we are right on the very edge of how many people our planet can support combined with our technological advancements. If we suddenly had the ability to live 400 years and could all procreate for 250-300 years of that, we might find ourselves having to impliment a Logan's Run system to prevent our own extinction.
  • Scientist: "Hello! I'm Dr. Longo! I broke the secret of aging!"
    Colleague: "Bill, I've known you for thirty years. Your last name is Rosenberg!"
    Scientist: "That's the name MORTALS gave me! From now on I'm 'Dr. LONGo!'"
  • I submitted this same story, but to a different link. So I am taking this opportunity to call the dupe that will happen when my story gets accepted. Lets see if I'm right.
  • I for one welcome our immortal fearless mice overlords and would like to remind them that as a trusted TV personality i can help gathet others to toil in there underground helium mines

    sorry it had to be done :P
  • by TheNarrator ( 200498 ) on Friday November 18, 2005 @08:44PM (#14067945)
    As anyone who has read Bruce Sterling's excellent Schismatrix series knows, Sterling predicts a movement both scientific and political called the "Shapers" who pursue genetic modifications to themselves to extend their lifespans and their physical and mental capabilities. They are opposed by the "Mechanists" who seek to integrate themselves with machines to attain the same feats. The main character Abelard Lindsay, who lives for several hundred years and is followed throughout the book at one point is offered an antique of immense value, the first 500 year old immortal mouse.

    The present version of the "Shaper" movement is known as "Transhumanism []". The modern day version of the "Mechanists" would be those who believe in the Ray Kurzweils, Verner Vinge (Singularity Sky) version of the future wherein artificial intelligence becomes integrated with and even exceeds Human Intelligence.

    A bit about Transhumanism:: Transhumanism (sometimes abbreviated >H or H+) is an emergent philosophy analyzing or favouring the use of science and technology, especially neurotechnology, biotechnology, and nanotechnology, to overcome human limitations and improve the human condition.
    Dr. Anders Sandberg describes modern transhumanism as "the philosophy that we can and should develop to higher levels, physically, mentally and socially using rational methods," while Dr. Robin Hanson describes it as "the idea that new technologies are likely to change the world so much in the next century or two that our descendants will in many ways no longer be 'human'."

When a fellow says, "It ain't the money but the principle of the thing," it's the money. -- Kim Hubbard