“I think it’s reasonable to suppose that one could oscillate between being biologically 20 and biologically 25 indefinitely.”
– Aubrey de Grey
Time may indeed be on your side. If you can just last another quarter century.
By then, individuals will begin to experience that could most recent 1,000 years or more. Our human genomes will be adjusted to incorporate the hereditary material of microorganisms that live in the dirt, empowering us to separate the garbage proteins that our phones store up after some time and which they can’t process all alone. Individuals will have the alternative of looking and feeling the way they did at 20 for whatever is left of their lives, or decide on a more established look in the event that they get exhausted. Obviously, everybody will be required to go in for age restoration treatment once consistently, however, that will be a little cost to pay for close interminability.
Evolutionary biologist Michael Rose, a professor at University of California, Irvine, says he has discovered a natural way to achieve “biological immortality” without the use of anti-aging drugs and stem cell treatments.
“It’s one you can start this evening,” the author of Evolutionary Biology of Aging shared in his talk Saturday atHumanity+ @ Caltech in Los Angeles. “It comes at no cost, you don’t have to buy anything, and, in fact, it might save you money.”
The term “biologically immortality” in gerontology is not to be confused with the Greek idea of immortality, or a god-like sense of living forever. It’s the point in which the exponential increase in mortality rates of a species population appears to level off, producing a sudden late-life plateau.
The phenomenon happens when a species reaches a state where it ceases to age, or no longer experiences a further loss of physiological function, Rose said. Rose suggests humans also experience a biological immortality phase if they are able to live long enough. “You can die, but the idea here is that you are non-aging,” Rose said, “versus aging with a decline of survival likelihood under good conditions.”
It’s a hypothesis that he supports in detail in his forthcoming book, Does Aging Stop? co-authored with Casandra L. Rauser and Laurence D. Mueller (Spring 2011, Oxford University Press).
Humans eventually achieve this period of non-aging, the authors suggest, just as several other multicellular living forms do, such as a creosote bush growing in the Mojave desert that has lived for longer than 10,000 years, and other long-lived organisms, including some animals.
Aging as an evolution byproduct
Rose argues that an organism ages because the process is a byproduct forced upon us by evolution by natural selection—governed by the passing on of genes.
That’s because across evolutionary species in eukaryotes, the genes selected generally favor survival of the young in a population, and then mortality rates begin to rise exponentially. “This is why you are all aging,” Rose said.
He began his work on fruit flies by tricking natural selection to produce what eventually became “Methuselah flies,” for which he is well known. The trick? Take the eggs from fruit flies that have maintained enough of their physiological function to reproduce in old age, and repeat.
Selection for late-life reproduction eventually made longer-lived fruit flies. This delayed-reproduction lineage, Rose showed, lives up to five times longer than average. “Hugh Heffner would love it,” he quipped.
The natural immortality plan (for 40+ people only)
So Rose suggests a fast route to the immortality phase. “The key is not to slow the rate of aging, but go directly to the immortal phase at a lower rate of mortality, which is exactly what the fruit flies do,” he said.
How do you make the transition to the immortality phase earlier and stop aging sooner? Adhere to a regimen of “what is natural for humans, what is our best environment.”
That excludes an industrial lifestyle and a Western-style diet that involves sitting several hours in front of a TV or computer and munching on Twinkies, he explained. Instead, adopt an ancestral hunter-gatherer lifestyle and diet (the paleolithic, or “paleo” diet).
A paleo diet is a regimen that includes only foods available before the agricultural revolution of the Neolithic, which includes lean meats, shore-based foods, fruits and vegetables. Foods that became available after the Neolithic such as grains, dairy, and processed foods are all avoided.
But, interestingly, Rose told me, for people of Eurasian ancestry, he disagrees with the age a paleo diet should be adopted as advised by main proponents of the paleo diet, such as evolutionary nutrition researchers Loren Cordain and S. Boyd Eaton. He said that young people of Eurasian ancestry have actually adapted well to new environments brought on by the agricultural revolution.
“But at later ages,” he added, “you will lose that adaptation to a novel environment and you will revert back to a condition to which you are better conditioned to a long ancestral environment.”
He explained that after age 40, the physiology of people of Eurasian ancestry appears to return to a pre-adapted state with age to one that is better off with the same foods our pre-Neolithic ancestors ate: meat, seafood, nuts, fruits and vegetables.
“Don’t eat anything derived from a grain or grass of any type—that includes rice and corn—and don’t eat anything from the udder of a cow if you are over 35 or 40,” Rose warns. “If you are under 30 you should probably eat an Andrew Weil-style organic, agricultural diet.”
What this suggests is that the ancestral hunter-gatherer diet is best viewed as a late-life aging therapy. In combination with modern medicine and future breakthroughs of the next 10 to 15 years, that could allow you to join the exclusive club of supercentenarians — or beyond.
Biological Immortality in Late Life (credit: Michael R. Rose)
Rose’s natural recipe for immortality
- Adopt a hunter-gatherer lifestyle after 35 to 40 if Eurasian, earlier if ancestry is less Eurasian. If younger than 30 and Eurasian, continue on a post-agricultural revolution diet (or Andrew Weil-style diet).
- Use the best modern medicine
- Use autologous (from your own cells) tissue repair as it becomes available in five or more years
- Use next-generation pharmaceuticals in the next 10 or more years
“With this recipe, I feel, many of you could be alive, basically, indefinitely,” Rose said.
Here are the five ways,science could make us immortal
#5. Unlocking What Your Genes Can Already Do
Really, the only thing keeping you from having the lifespan of a vampire or a Highlander is an enzyme called telomerase.
So if you’ve decided you want to live until squid evolve to start swinging from trees, the first thing you should know is that while we accept aging as an unquestioned constant of the universe, it really isn’t. The breakdown in our cells that causes us to get frail and wrinkly is a specific set of defects that science is just now starting to pin down. By all rights we shouldn’t have to get old. After all, nature has plenty of examples of animals that suffer the whims of weather and disease, but if left alone in a germ- and disaster-free habitat would effectively live forever (including tortoises, certain jellyfish and some plants).
With us, there is that enzyme, telomerase, which acts like the little plastic thingy on the end of your shoelaces for your DNA — it keeps the ends of your DNA from unraveling. Unfortunately, every time your cells divide, some of this is lost, meaning you are breaking your body’s ability to regenerate itself every time you grow or heal. Medical scientists are finding ways to either rejuvenate telomerase or prevent its loss in the first place. If they succeed, that could effectively halt or even reverse the aging process. At that point, youth could not only be wasted on the young, but also completely blown on the elderly, who would likely forget all their hard-earned wisdom with their reinstated endurance and sudden return of fully functioning boners.
And one way or the other, the answer to aging is in our genes. And gene therapy — that is, manipulating the genes inside our cells to treat disease — is already a thing. It’s just a matter of getting better at it. Futurists Ray Kurzweil and Dr. Terry Grossman think that eventually we could not only block disease-causing genes, but even introduce new genes that, in addition to preventing aging, also make awesome augmentations like changing your eye color or making you glow in the dark.
None of these techniques will save you from a fiery car crash, obviously (we’re getting to those), but the point is there is no reason to think of a lifespan as something that has to end in 80 or even 800 years, barring deadly intervention from a jealous husband.
#4. Mind Uploading
Mind uploading is exactly what it sounds like: backing up your entire mind to a computer.
This is one of those ideas that sounds ridiculous but could be closer than you think. The hardware certainly isn’t far away.
Scientific estimates vary wildly as to how much computer hardware it would take to mimic your brain, because the human brain stores information in a completely different way than your computer. For instance, if you just count up the neurons, its raw storage is only a few gigabytes, i.e., less than the thumb-size USB drive you have at your desk, but the brain uses a flexible system that lets it store something closer to 2.5 petabytes (that is, 2,500 terabytes) worth of information.
That kind of storage is commonplace in computers. Blizzard uses 1.3 petabytes just to run World of Warcraft on it servers. Obviously, we don’t have computers capable of mimicking or hosting human thought processes, mostly because we don’t understand enough about how the brain retrieves thoughts and memories. But in terms of sheer hardware horsepower, we could probably build something capable of doing it once they figure out how it’d work.
So this may actually be less sci-fi than the rest of the list; scientists have already made working neural interfaces for computers and robots and have even created simulated animal brains using supercomputers. These are the first steps to recording a human mind digitally (called whole brain emulation). Then you could create a digital backup of you, in case something awful happened.
#3. Nanotech Cellular Repairs
Nanotech (i.e., microscopic machines and materials that can build and fix stuff) is quickly becoming to our culture what atomic energy was to the 1950s — a world-changing technology that, in science fiction stories, always creates monsters. It’s easy to get carried away with what nanotech will be capable of. There will be limitations, just as there are with any technology. But it’s also hard not to get excited.
Because these techniques aren’t just theoretical. Scientists have successfully used nanotech torepair optic nerves in blind hamsters by building a custom synthetic molecule that, when injected, arranges itself into a nanofiber to repair the nerve. They are working on nanorobots that would target and kill cancer cells like tiny hunter-killers.
The futurist we quoted before (Kurzweil) thinks we are less than 20 years away from a nanotech immortality revolution, but again, we admit it’s hard to stick a deadline on this sort of thing (he tends to be way on the optimistic side). Still, the concept is sound; it’s simply a more advanced, less invasive form of medicine that could someday detect and repair body disease and trauma at a cellular level. It would make today’s surgeons look like clumsy cavemen.
Kurzweil takes it even further, saying that if we make our tiny machines advanced enough (again assuming the continuing decrease in size and increase in power we’ve seen with computers since they were invented), then we could theoretically replace the nuclei of our cells with nanocomputers that would do a faster, more efficient job than the shitty nucleus that evolution left us with.
#2. Cloned Parts (or a Whole New Body)
While no one reliable has ever cloned (or claimed to clone) a human, it is scientifically plausible, and as a result, it has been suggested as a means to allow humans to sustain their lives beyond their normal mortal sell-by date.
There are two ideas at work here. The first is the prospect of manufacturing new, healthy, completely “you” organs to replace the crappy old parts you were born with, or even that next-generation organ you put in 30 years ago, whenever they start to get old. Obviously, most people die because a specific organ fails (for Americans, the heart is the most common culprit). So being able to replace parts like you would swap out transmissions on a car could extend life indefinitely, even if nothing else on this list comes to fruition. And organ-farming is the less morally ambiguous cloning method, since it simply requires cloning individual body parts.
The other method can pretty much count on the government giving us a response of “Umm, no …” (in fact, it already has), because it would use a fully grown cloned body as the receptacle for the brain of an aging person so that person could effectively go from 70 to 20 with a single operation. As you might imagine, this has led to a certain level of squeamishness, since it would mean either effectively killing a cloned person for his body or raising a fully functioning body that was brain-dead from birth.
#1. Cybernetic Immortality
If we have learned anything from movies, and we have learned so much, then it’s safe to say that of all the possible methods for achieving immortality, this is the most awesome. Scientists call this the RoboCop approach. Or at least they should.
Homo sapiens are tool users: that, maybe more than anything, has defined the advancement of our species. So even if we never crack the genetic aging code or perfect the method of growing replacement livers, we can turn to our ability to build awesome mechanical tools for immortality. It’s what we do.
And we’re already on our way — with artificial hearts, replacement limbs and artificial nerves, we are already rebuilding humans, albeit piecemeal, into cyborgs. Put a stethoscope over the chest of former Vice President Dick Cheney and you’ll hear nothing — instead of a heart, he has a machine that pumps blood. If we can replace one part, we can replace another.
Many of the limitations of these technologies — weight and durability of the materials and energy efficiency — will go away with advances in technologies such as carbon nanotubes and metamaterials. Just as we built cars that can transport us faster than our legs, we will have replacement body parts that not only outperform our crappy natural organs but will be nigh invulnerable as well.
Fortunately, prosthetics don’t have the same moral complications as cloning a human body or mind uploading (“So, will my soul be uploaded as well?”). The cultural acceptance of this technique will happen one limb at a time. Nobody would start hating Bill Murray if he got an artificial hip. And even if they had to keep going until they replaced his legs and arms and all his internal organs, we’d still hug him if we saw him on the street. Knowing that he now possesses the Terminator-style strength to crush our bones would actually make it better.