EDITORIAL

Hope and Cheer for the Future

A s this is being written, the decade of the oughties (2000–2009) is drawing to an end. And although it’s easy to complain, there is a lot for which we ought (get it?) to be thankful. Could you ever have imagined 10 years ago that fully functioning hand-held computer-communication devices (such as the iPhone and the BlackBerry) would be with us at all times? Titillating us . . . educating us . . . empowering us . . . and drawing us ever more rapidly into the future?

And what does the future hold for our kind, who have more explicit interests in health than others? According to Caleb Finch, humans have the longest life spans of any primate, about twice that of wild chimpanzees, because of improved immune systems and better nutrition.1 So we can anticipate more of the same. Widening the gap. That’s good, but we’ve learned to expect it.

Yet there have been surprises. Adding hope to hope, two papers, published just last year (2009) provide a higher viewpoint: First, a mouse study using rapamycin is the first to highlight a drug that leads to increased mammalian longevity even though given in the diet late in life,2 and second, a Wisconsin monkey study is the first to report significant lifespan extension and delay in age-associated morbidity in nonhuman primates following adult-onset caloric restriction.3 Hooray!

Of course, these papers are successors to the two breakthrough resveratrol studies of the oughties, the first showing that the herbal extract can mimic caloric restriction’s benefits and extend lifespan in mice even while on a high-calorie diet (2006).4 The second of these studies found that resveratrol enhances the mitochondrial function and aerobic capacity in mice. Also, that it induces genes for oxidative phosphorylation and mitochondrial biogenesis and protects mice against diet-induced-obesity and insulin resistance.5 Glad good news for longevists!

If Ray Kurzweil is right,6 we are living in an era of accelerating returns, that grow exponentially, and have the same type of trajectory that Moore’s Law propounds. Namely, that the density of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit will double every two years. Which is slow, compared to Butter’s Law of Photonics, a formulation which deliberately parallels Moore’s law. Butter’s law says that the amount of data coming out of an optical fiber is doubling every nine months. Egads! That suggests that the ultimate law will double things immediately, and one morning, we’ll open the door, and everything will have happened that can be imagined, to say the least. The exponential curve will have become factorialized!

There is much to look forward to in the teenies (2010–2019), including a major acceleration in memory enhancement and a lot more life extension. How about supplements that grow more synapses and increase IQ? Or more sophisticated links between neurons and computers that upload information directly into your brain. Care to read through the National Library of Medicine this afternoon? You ought to be able to do it in the teenies.

References

  1. Finch CE. Evolution of the human lifespan and diseases of aging: Roles of infection, inflammation, and nutrition. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2009 Dec 4. [Epub ahead of print]
  2. Harrison DE, Strong R, Sharp ZD, Nelson JF, Astle CM, Flurkey K, Nadon NL, Wilkinson JE, Frenkel K, Carter CS, Pahor M, Javors MA, Fernandez E, Miller RA. Rapamycin fed late in life extends lifespan in genetically heterogeneous mice. Nature 2009 Jul 16;460(7253):392-5.
  3. Colman RJ, Anderson RM, Johnson SC, Kastman EK, Kosmatka KJ, Beasley TM, Allison DB, Cruzen C, Simmons HA, Kemnitz JW, Weindruch R. Caloric restriction delays disease onset and mortality in rhesus monkeys. Science 2009 Jul 10;325(5937):201-4.
  4. Baur JA, Pearson KJ, Price NL, Jamieson HA, Lerin C, Kalra A, Prabhu VV, Allard JS, Lopez-Lluch G, Lewis K, Pistell PJ, Poosala S, Becker KG, Boss O, Gwinn D, Wang M, Ramaswamy S, Fishbein KW, Spencer RG, Lakatta EG, Le Couteur D, Shaw RJ, Navas P, Puigserver P, Ingram DK, de Cabo R, Sinclair DA. Resveratrol improves health and survival of mice on a high-calorie diet. Nature 2006 Nov 16;444(7117):337-42.
  5. Lagouge M, Argmann C, Gerhart-Hines Z, Meziane H, Lerin C, Daussin F, Messadeq N, Milne J, Lambert P, Elliott P, Geny B, Laakso M, Puigserver P, Auwerx J. Resveratrol improves mitochondrial function and protects against metabolic disease by activating SIRT1 and PGC-1alpha. Cell 2006 Dec 15;127(6):1109-22.
  6. Kurzweil R. The singularity is near: when humans transcend biology. Viking, New York, 2005

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