One of the things I’d prefer not to do is die (I’m going to need at least a couple centuries to get my web site updated!) Anyway, Lisa thinks the whole notion is absurd, but I think the odds of never having to die are now higher than they’ve ever been and increasing on an almost daily basis. The odds of effective immortality within my lifetime (I’d like to live at least 200 years) are still exceedingly small, but I am optimistic.
Something I don’t think people who don’t regularly read scientific journals realize is the extent to which human discoveries about biology are accelerating. I don’t know how to quantify it, but I believe there is a sort of Moore’s Law-style principle for biology in that not only are new discoveries being made, but the actual rate at which medical knowledge is being acquired is increasing over time.
Anyway, two news items last week strongly improved the price of my immortality futures.
Another advance was added to nanontechnology (Eric Drexler’s looking less and less like a nut every day) a few months ago. Researchers developed a robot small enough to do repair work at the single cell level. The full article on the robot was published in Science this past June.
Meanwhile, researchers at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology made newspapers around the world for discovering why some animals on calorie-restricted diets live so much longer. In mice given diets that contain all the necessary nutrients but just exactly the number of calories required to maintain life, the mice tend to live 40 percent longer than mice given higher, but still normal, calorie diets. Why this happened was a mystery until the MIT researchers announced that their experiments with yeast strongly suggest that the calorie restriction interacts directly with the SIR2 protein which functions to “shut off” certain cells and whose absence in yeast was found to shorten life span.
The good news is that the reason all of this works is that the SIR2 protein needs a chemical NAD, which is also needed by the body when it converts food to energy. At least in yeast and mice, it is now believed when they eat high calorie diets, there is less NAD available for the SIR2 protein since all the NAD is used to metabolize food. Restrict the calories, and all of a sudden there’s more NAD for the SIR2 to do its work and the result is a more efficient system that extends the lifespan of the organism.
Assuming all of this applies to human beings, it is not inconceivable that in a few decades we might all be taking medication to increase our NAD levels, thus getting the benefits without having to eat a 1,200 calorie diet from birth to death. And for people like me who have already lived a substantial portion of our lives, we can send in the nanorobots to repair pre-existing cellular damage.
It’s a cyberpunk future without the fascist governments (what I really want is the “suntan” lotion in one of Bruce Sterling’s Islands In the Net that literally changed skin color, although I’d want to get to choose more skin colors. Think of the market for teenagers — my nephew had green hair, I’m sure he’d have loved green skin!)