Re: Ben Bova's Immortality book.
Sun, 25 Oct 1998 20:47:29 EST

In a message dated 98-10-25 19:40:40 EST, you write:

> Cancer and AIDS are both relatively simple compared to the aging
> process and they have each confounded us for decades.

Indeed. Further, without a cure for cancer, there's no immortality. Cancer incidence goes up with about the 5th power of age and would strike virtually everybody down by 100-150 years if we remained youthful. Old people have lower cancer death rates than a direct extrapolation of the rate as their cancers tend to be old and feeble too.

> The only way that substantial extension of the human life span will be
> attained is through acknowledging the difficulty of the problem and
> allocating resources accordingly. Bova, on the other hand, implies that
> current research programs are enough to deliver significant benefits within
> a short time frame. I would prefer him to be correct but I am not going to
> count on it.

Immortality, no. But significant benefits are possible. The lab I'm working in doubled the life of fruit flies with 100 generations of breeding. All that happened was the the frequencies of genes at about 100 loci changed. Basically each locus (gene) is probably reasonably independent of each other. A normal fly might average, say, 10 "good" genes. Even a long-lived normal fly will only have a couple extra "good" genes. By breeding each fly has good genes at most of the loci, so the average bred fly outlives the longest-lived normal fly.

Presumably a similar situation applies to human. I've got a couple good aging genes, you've got a different set, etc. If we can identify them and alter each of our biochemistries (probably with drugs) to just mimic the best known in each category we could get a couple extra decades. An example would be the rare HDL locus in a few Italian families which provides near-immunity to heart disease.

All I'm saying is that significant benefits (although not immortality) is *possible*. We may not be looking at the right things. Most human research is on blood lipoprotein genes, rarish cancer genes, and telomerase, while the most significant effects found yet, in nematodes and yeast, are with insulin-related genes. Even if we find something we may not be able to use it (particularly with genes that affect cancer).